Posts Tagged ‘Katie Brennan’

The Union Theatre continues its role as London’s principal home of British musicals, this time with the world premiere of a show about the military’s treatment of its own in the First World War, together with attitudes to pacifism, homosexuality and class at that time. The show, the production and the performances combine to provide a very beautiful evening indeed.

Harry enlists, even though he’s three years below the minimum age, and finds himself in the trenches with fellow villager Peter and initially reluctant local squire Adam (he’s the recipient of the white feather of the title), immediately promoted to Captain because of his class. Harry’s sister Georgina looks after Adam’s estate in his absence and has to fire Edward, his secret lover who has feigned a disability to avoid the front. Harry is executed for dereliction of duty, considered to be equal to desertion, which sets Georgina on a course to clear his name. When the war is over, Georgina marries Adam but with the ghost of Harry and his sexuality hanging over him it doesn’t prove to be a long or happy affair. Though set primarily in East Anglia immediately before, during and after the war, we do jump forward to later periods right up to 2006, and to other locations. Given the time-hopping and the location changes it’s a remarkably lucid book.

The score contains many lovely songs, some very short, but all driving the narrative forward. I loved the arrangements for keyboards, cello and violin, played so well by MD Dustin Conrad’s trio that the audience stayed put throughout the play-out, and the unamplified vocals were a joy to hear. Tim McQuillan-Wright has created a simple but evocative set and Natasha Payne’s costumes anchor the piece in its period. Hot on the heels of her star turn in Bye Bye Birdie in Walthamstow, Abigail Matthews gives a very different performance of great dignity as Georgina. Adam Davey conveys Adam’s torment between public and private and duty and feelings very movingly. Harry Pettigrew captures the innocent patriotism of Harry and Zac Hamilton the sadness of Edward, who’s love for Adam can never be fully realised. Katie Brennan appears to have moved into the Union, following an outstanding performance in The Spitfire Grill with another terrific one here as Georgina’s friend Edith.

I was captivated by this lovely show. Andrew Keates had developed and directed it and co-wrote the book and he’s done a great job. Unmissable.

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This 2001 show by James Valcq & Fred Alley (who died tragically just before its New York première) is based on the 1996 film of the same title. The writers were mentored by Arthur Laurents and the show won the prestigious Richard Rogers Award, presented by a panel that included Lynn Ahrens, Sheldon Harnick and Richard Maltby Jnr, chaired by Stephen Sondheim no less. It’s apparently had c.500 productions worldwide but this appears to be only the second one in the UK and the first professional one and first London one, which is a real puzzle as its such a good show.

Recently released from prison, Percy (a girl) serves her parole in ficticious Gilead, Wisconsin. The local Sheriff, Joe Stutter, finds her a job and home at the titular cafe owned by Hannah. The small town are divided, with Hannah’s nephew Caleb and postmistress and town gossip Effy against and Hannah, Caleb’s wife Shelby and the Sheriff prepared to give her a chance. Hannah has an accident, which prompts her decision to finally get rid of the cafe (which has been on the market for 10 years) and this brings Percy & Shelby close as they get the idea of a competition to find the next owner. We eventually learn the reason for Percy’s imprisonment and the mystery surrounding the disappearance of Hannah’s son Eli.

It’s a very good book, with the lyrics providing much to drive the narrative. The score is packed full of great tunes with a real Americana sound, helped by the use of accordion as well as the piano of MD Simon Holt. There are only six major characters, but they are all very well drawn and it’s extremely well plotted. It’s a really well written show, though it starts oddly with a long solo by Percy, A Ring Around the Moon. It soon takes off though and draws you in. The closing numbers of both acts are particularly uplifting.

In addition to a fine show, I was impressed by a uniformly excellent cast with outstanding vocals and mighty fine acting. Belinda Wollaston navigates her character’s journey from edgy ex-con to reformed ex-con extremely well, Hilary Harwood really inhabits the character of Hannah and Natalie Law makes another impressive transformation from dominated Shelby to liberated Shelby. Chris Kiely is every inch the young small town Sheriff and Hans Rye is great as the less sympathetic Caleb. Katie Brennan lightens the evening with a superb characterisation of busy-body Effy. This really is an exceptional cast, mostly new to me.

It’s a minimalist staging (a little too too much so in the first half, with unnecessarily ‘mimed’ coffee pots, cups and suchlike) with no set and just a few props, but the show is good enough to make that irrelevant. The only other work I’ve seen by director Alistair Knights was the Sondheim ‘revue’ Putting it Together and the one-night A Little Night Music, both excellent, and his staging here impressed me again.

Great show, outstanding vocals, fine acting……two more weeks to find out for yourself.

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