REVIEW: Keep the Home Fires

*****

By Isabella Fraser

This musical, set in WWI, features not only a cast of six performers, but unusually for the Fringe, an eight-strong orchestra too. A story about a woman who becomes a spy to track down her underage brother who has signed up to fight for the war effort, the story sounds interesting but in practice feels underwritten – perhaps because of timing constraints – and does not entirely making sense.

The musical accompaniment is lovely, played with sensitivity and passion by the young musicians, and enthusiastically conducted by Jack Wilkinson. The actual storyline and the performances are less successful and patchy in places. One of the biggest issues is that all the entertainers are constrained in the tiny performance space, which would be considered small at the best of times, but cramming in with 14 people on an area meant for up to 3 people, does not make any logical sense. In addition, while there are several songs, at times, the volume of the orchestra is so much the on-stage singing – and talking – cannot be heard.

Some of the performers are more naturally suited to singing than others, although in the main, the singers perform well and with strength. Reading the programme, it is clear that the cast are all students, so some allowance can be made for errors. However, there are times when the songs are clearly too low or too high for the relevant performers, which makes it difficult for the words to be clear heard, or responded to in the intended manner.

There is effective use of very simple props and stage furniture, in order to maximize the space constraints; however, this means that the backstage area sometimes becomes visible and exits can become difficult to achieve believably or smoothly. Sightlines are difficult for the audience when the characters are too close to the front row, or using the space on the floor in front of the audience.

This musical has potential but needs to consider a more appropriate performing space, a tweaking of the script – and marrying up actor strengths to the appropriate skill. Nonetheless, there are fine performances from the two leads, Megan McGuire and Sam Willison, which remain with you for some time.

Keep the Home Fires runs until 22 August at Spotlites @ 18:55. Running time is 1 hour 20 mins.

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