DramaMusicalSouth West

Only The Brave – Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff

Writer:Rachel Wagstaff
Director &Lyricist:Steve Marmion
Composer:Matthew Brind

Reviewer:Jacqui Onions

Only the Brave is a brand new musical from Wales Millennium Centre with Soho Theatre, Daniel Sparrow Productions, and Birdsong Productions. Inspired by real people and true accounts from World War II, the story focusses on Captain John Howard (David Thaxton) and the Company that he led to capture Benouville Bridge and keep it intact; a mission that was vital to the success of the D-Day landings, enabling British forces to cross once they had landed. Not just told from the viewpoint of the troupes, Only the Brave also looks at the mission through the eyes of the women left behind and their vital contribution, as well as the essential work of the French Resistance.

Rachel Wagstaff’s writing is spot on, presenting a complex story of a mission with so many cogs vital to its success in an engaging, emotive and very real way. With so much plot it could easily have been the case that the audience did not have time to connect with each of the characters, but Only the Brave could not be further from that happening. Wagstaff ensures that you feel a deep connection with each of the characters. You will laugh with them, cry with them and become completely immersed in their story. This brilliant book is complemented perfectly by Matthew Brind’s score and Steve Marmion’s lyrics. The complex, powerful songs all serve to keep you emotionally connected with the piece and are performed to perfection by the incredible cast.

As well as writing the lyrics, Marmion also directs the piece. There is always so much going on with many scenes playing out in more than one place at once. Marmion’s direction clever ensures that the eyes and focus of the audience are directed to exactly what he wants you to see.

Only the Brave utilises projection, designed by Dick Straker, to transport the audience instantly between Britain and France, training camp to war zone, without the need for awkward pauses to change scenes. Couple this with a set predominantly made up of metal structures on wheels, designed by Michael Vale to become anything your imagination lets them, and you have a very slick, pacey production. This clever design really comes into its own when the glider in which the Company approaches France crash lands. The film projection, versatile set and movement choreographed by Alistair David all come together to create something gripping and visually stunning.

The whole cast is extraordinary. In fact, you will think there are more of them than there actually are, such is the skill and brilliant characterisation of those that play multiple roles. The leading roles have been perfectly cast. Thaxton along with Caroline Sheen as his wife, Joy Howard, Neil McDermott as Lieutenant Denham Brotheridge, and Emilie Fleming as Maggie Brotheridge are all superb. Special mention must also go to Nikki Mae and her captivating performance as French Resistance girl Isabelle. Vocally, the power of the whole cast is spectacular. With some difficult songs to contend with, the sound they create together is spine-tingling.

There are one or two tiny details, mostly within the movement, that currently prevent the piece from being perfect but these are easily ironed out given a long enough run. What is certain is that Wales Millennium Centre is on to a hit musical with Only the Brave

Runs until 2 April 2016 | Image: Helen Maybanks

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The Southwest team is under the editorship of Holly Spanner. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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