Writer and Director: Terence Frisby
Music: Martin Wheatley, Gordon Clyde & others
Lyrics: Dominic Frisby, Gordon Clyde & others
Kisses on a Postcard takes us through the upheaval of war, as seen through a child’s eyes. Adapted from Terence Frisby’s award-winning radio play, the concept musical expands into a depiction of life during the Second World War.
The story begins with two boys, Terry (aged 7) and Jack (aged 11). It is June 1940, and the boys’ lives in busy, grimy Deptford, are about to change forever. They are, along with the rest of their school, to be evacuated to the country. As their mother tearfully helps them pack, she gives the boys a postcard. On arrival, they are to post it back to her with the addition of a secret code. One kiss means their new home is terrible; two is okay and three – their home is lovely and they are happy.
The musical packs in the humour early – the initial excitement of a train journey subsides as the children’s voices – buoyant and jovial – become groggy and grumpy. Hours later, the boys arrive in Dobwalls, Cornwall. The children are selected by the villagers, with Terry and Jack picked by Auntie Rose (voiced by Katy Secombe) and Uncle Jack (John Owen-Jones). The boys find themselves at a farm, and the novelty delights them. It’s a world away from Deptford, but the boys could have done worse. They return their postcard home, laden with kisses.
Martin Wheatley and Gordon Clyde’s music captures a sense of trepidation and adventure for Terry and Jack, interwoven with traditional music. Rose and Jack have moved to Cornwall from Wales, and that connection is used to blend together a Celtic, folksy sound. The music is vibrant and deeply emotive, illustrating the ties of community (locals and evacuees adjusting to each other) far better than the sometimes awkward, unimaginative dialogue. The wholesome musical gets an injection of sex appeal when American GIs arrive, and the zesty Got Any Gum, Chum? drops a splash of technicolour onto a grey, wartime landscape.
Brandon McGuiness and Frankie Joel-Celani as Terry and Jack create a sibling relationship that feels real and engaging. Their voices harmonise beautifully, particularly in the eponymous song Kisses on a Postcard. As the play shifts into Act II, the realities of war, and the sacrifices demanded of soldiers and their families, is brought into focus. Frisby cleverly references not just the Second World War, but the Great War (Uncle Jack has two artillery shells displayed on the mantelpiece) and even the Boer conflict. In a scene where the boys visit villager Grannie Peters (a haunting performance from Marcia Warren), it’s clear that the grief of losing her son, decades before, remains raw and uncomforted.
Kisses On a Postcard is, on the face of it, a dollop of rosy nostalgia, but the cost of war reveals characters who are pawns in a much larger, political game. Uncle Jack bitterly tells the boys that “survival is an accident”, and we are left to contemplate whether the price paid by ordinary people is ultimately too rich, too high.
Two-hour and four-hour versions available here