By Isabella Fraser
Verbatim theatre is a rising area of performance and it is easy to understand that stories from wartime should make an emotive and interesting show. What is more unusual is putting this into musical form – it sounds like it should not work and yet in this production it does, with great aplomb.
Every audience member has to walk between two soldiers guarding the entrance: this sets the scene for the remainder of the show. What works is the way in which all elements have been carefully constructed, crafted and fitted together. There is strength in the overall direction, lighting and sound that is very clear, clean and looks effortless – there is no wasted movement from choreographer Chloe Shipley. With the complicated fight scenes in particular, it is obvious fight choreographer Piers Cottee-Hones has ensured the sections where the soldiers are under attack are timed to perfection.
The music, composed by Emily Taylor, follows a range of styles, each to fit in with the story being told and the time period in which it is set. Because of the commitment and belief – and ultimately the emotional connection – which these young performers bring to the production, none of it feels wrong. Even the use of difficult and blunt text, which should sound ridiculous when expressed in song, becomes a thing of clarity and truth in the voices of the ensemble. Indeed this is a key point: if you believe and commit fully to what you are saying and doing on stage as this cast does exquisitely, the audience will go with you, as it does for this show.
The stories cover the world wars and more recent wars, flitting between them, but somehow managing to make the connections work – a soldier is a soldier, no matter when he (or she) has gone to war. The use of marching, songs of lament and strength, monologues of fear and hope by those left behind or who have left the war – which has never truly left them – are powerful tools in this piece.
The entire ensemble – 13 actors, one actor/musician and one musician – work together seamlessly which is no mean feat. However, this is clearly a team, just as a soldier’s unit is: when the show comes towards an end, there is an almost unbearable poignancy with which the penultimate number, I Thought I Could Change Things, is delivered. The closing image of the soldiers as they listen to The Last Post is not unexpected, but is an emotionally charged and fitting end to this tribute to those who have fought. See it while you can – tissues are advised.