Monday, July 07, 2014


Brentwood Operatic Society at Brentwood Theatre

Popular songs run through the Great War – from recruiting drives to the trenches, where phonographs were prized possessions, and impromptu concert parties [as in the stage show of Birdsong] relieved the tedium and eased the terror. And of course there's O What A Lovely War, a savage satire with jolly songs.
Brentwood Operatic's approach was different. In a touching entertainment, specially devised for Brentwood Arts Festival, we see the war through the eyes of a close-knit little community, as it affects the lives of sisters, sweethearts, munitionettes and musicians.
The opening is brilliantly conceived – an invisible bugler sounds the Last Post, with Pack Up Your Troubles in poignant counterpoint. In a bleak church hall, the people are preparing patriotic paper-chains and bunting for an evening of Music Hall.
An ensemble show, with much the same community feel as their predecessors a century ago. But standout turns from Juliet Thomas as Mabel, Marcia Alderson as Lizzie, Alli Smith as the dashing drummer in the touring band, and Jamie Fudge as battle-scarred, shell-shocked Jack, whose death is subtly suggested by a heart-rending reprise of Till We Meet Again.
Musical leitmotivs run through the piece – Bless 'Em All is another, though we never hear the cruder words the Tommies sang. I'd always thought of it as a WWII song, George Formby's fault, no doubt, just as Oh Johnnie is linked to the Andrews Sisters [a super trio here, excellently choreographed]. But no, they belong to the earlier generation. Great to discover some “new” songs from the war, too – Harry Hilbert's American offering, Someday They're Coming Home Again, or the hilarious finale Higher In Hawaii.
The poetry, too, mixed the familiar with the lesser-known. Jessie Pope's tub-thumping The Call, and Owen's bitter response. But also Marian Allen's The Wind on the Downs, and Marjorie Wilson's To Tony, Age 3 -

all his joy he gave,
His love of quiet fields, his youth, his life,
To win that heritage of peace you have.

Musical Director, and orchestrated by, Becca Toft
Co directed by Becca Toft and Amy Newland
Script by Amy Newland.


Anonymous said...

A very well executed piece. thoroughly enjoyed by the audience.

Mary Redman said...

It was tricky attempting to make sense of this show specially created for the Brentwood Arts Festival, when all we had to go on was a handwritten cast list. It's amazing how much you can pick up from a programme but it was not to be. Apologies therefore for anyone misnamed in this entertaining little show as information was still coming in on the Tuesday afterwards as I write.
The show was written by Amy Newland, codirected by Becca Toft and Amy Newland and orchestrated and conducted by Becca. She also shone as the excellent trumpet player blending the Last Post with one of the First World War numbers that opened the show.
The show itself is about a small community (probably East End) getting together a concert party in a tearing rush. Which seemed very appropriate for the show we actually saw that seemed to feature many performers who we don't always have an opportunity to see in lead roles.
As a survivor of the Second World War, whose idea of hell is to end up in an old peoples home where Vera Lynn et al are constantly played, I much appreciated the opportunity to hear again the unfamiliar songs such as The Sunshine Of Your Smile. The songs chosen reflected those I heard as a child because they were charming and expressed the longing of people torn apart.
Jean Wilson, Hilary Sweeney and Graham Greenaway opened the show in solemn mood which gave way to the bustle of the community hall where it was all hands on deck to decorate the space with bunting and flags.
There were powerful singing and acting performances from Alli Smith as Johnnie, Marcia Alderson as Lizzie and especially from Juliet Thomas's Mabel yearning for her soldier's return. As Jack Jamie Fudge's angry soldier told people what life in the trenches was truly like. Emma Sweeney was the grieving widow and Dan Glock's Alexander tried to organise everybody.
So in poetry, music and song backed by Becca's very lively small band, especially in numbers such as I Was A Good Little Girl, the company entertained and informed us.
With my background I do query the decision to abruptly change from the high jinks of Hawaii to a somewhat uneasy solemn ending. Understandable as this decision was to a certain extent, the great surge of energy created by that exuberant, celebratory, entire cast song at full throttle, was destroyed.

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