Writers:Lizzie Bourne &Laura Kaye Thomson
Composer:Laura Kaye Thomson
Reviewer: Deborah Parry
War is not the easiest subject matter to create a musical from, yet shows such as Cabaret, South Pacific and The Sound of Music prove that it is entirely possible to get it right – to deliver a piece that is sensitive, audience pleasing and affecting, without the discomfort of over-sentimentality. Poppies succeeds (mostly) in this regard too and sticks to a tale of sisterhood, rather than the battlefield itself.
First performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2015 (albeit in a much shorter form), the musical focuses on the story of four women who perform for the troops during World War One. It is a case of life imitating art when they stumble through different ideas and fail to decide on the most appropriate creative direction to go in. The musical, unfortunately, suffers the same fate – introducing characters, ideas and plot lines and then not seeing them through to the end or exploring them fully.
There is an unresolved love story that is introduced but not concluded; an interaction between a German soldier and two of the women that is hugely important to the progression of the plot but feels abrupt due to the little time devoted to it prior to a pivotal moment; and a series of letters written to a child that died in early infancy,with no explanation in regard to the baby’s father.
Likewise, the musical suffers due to a stylistic confusion. Songs are presented initially as part of the story the performers sing to the troops and we listen (much like in the musicals Once and The Commitments) – but this is abandoned during the second actwhen Les Miserables-esque tunes are belted out as a means to forward the plot.
There is much to be praised too,though; the cast is talented and enthusiastic – not only triple threats but quadrupedal – singing, dancing, acting and also playing musical instruments throughout. It is particularly impressive when actress Emily Owens emerges after an energetic dance number with a trumpet and blasts out a tune. The company, although sometimes appearing slightly under-rehearsed, is uniform and solid.
The costumes and set design work particularly well; with very little it is easy to imagine a hospital, performance space – even a brief moment on the battlefield is handled in a creative and innovative manner.
There are many memorable and haunting tunes – in particular, Working Women and The Summer of 1914. In fact, the most moving moment occurs not due to poignancy of the plot but musically when a beautiful counterpoint arrangement of the songs is presented at the end of the piece- testament to the talent of composer/lyricist Laura Kaye Thompson – no doubt a name to watch out for in the field of musical theatre in the future.
Runs until 28 May 2016 | Image:TRH Composite