And now: for my 160th blog, something completely different…….
The White Feather and The Smallest Show on Earth
Last week I had the joy of seeing not one but two brand new British musicals. One was at the tiny Union Theatre in Southwark – a dramatic tale of the First World War and conscientious objectors and traitors. The other took on on a very much lighter note and blended the tunes of Irving Berlin into a reworking of the classic 1950’s film comedy, and premiered at the Colchester’s Mercury Theatre. It was great to see them on the start of their journeys – a day or so after their opening; and I hope that they both do fantastically well. They say that musicals are ‘never written but always being re-written’ – they are always works in progress – and I am sure both of them will change. But the productions I have just seen were inspiring; and it would be great if both could eventually make it to the big time.
The Smallest Show on Earth was a delight.
It’s a brand new musical comedy inspired by the hilarious 1950’s film starring Peter Sellers and Margaret Rutherford and now worked around some classic (and not so classic) songs by Irving Berlin (Blue Skies, Shakin’ the Blues Away, Steppin’ Out With My Baby) to make a ‘New Irving Berlin Musical’. It is the first time I have seen my local theatre – the Mercury in Colchester- staging a full blown new musical premiere; and top marks to them for doing so. And this is a wonderful production: a beautifully staged and choreographed frolic – a treat from start to end. The cast perform as they love what they are doing – and I am becoming a great fan of Laura Pitt- Pulford who sings electrically. ( I have seen there this year already in Seven Brides, and both Follies in Concert and Jason Robert Brown at the Festival Hall)). I love musicals that set the spirits soaring and this is most certainly one of them. ………. I wish the production every success as it travels the country and hopefully eventually reaches the West End.
The White Feather is a contrast……
And this musical is also a winner; but could not be more different. It tells a very serious tale with a political message about the first world war. An original story, it shows that musicals do not always have to be sheer fluff. It tells the story of Georgina Briggs whose brother was one of over 300 allied soldiers executed for cowardice during the First World War. She won’t accept the shame and she won’t let it lie. But as she fights for justice a shocking discovery awaits her.
Memorials to the soldiers who fought and died in the Great War grace almost every town and village but 306 names are conspicuous by their absence – the men who were executed by their own side. Some were deserters and others were condemned for putting down their weapons in the course of battle but many were suffering from what we know now as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
The White Feather tells the story of one soldier and his sister’s lifelong fight for a posthumous pardon. It also encounters the issues of homosexuality and gender inequality at the turn of the century. With powerful songs and a storyline with a twist, this production has a sharp emotional intensity generated by words and music. Again the performances – in a very small space- are wonderful: and very intense. I left on the very edge of an emotional crisis!
Ever since I saw Oliver way back in 1960, I have had a very soft spot for the ‘British Musical’ and this just continues my passion. It’s just wonderful to see the English musical continuing to bring new ventures to us all.
I don’t know you but I have been a fan of your work for years. Your blog is a joy to read and no entry more so than your tribute to John Gagnon. I did not know John, either, but have been much influenced by his work through the conduit of my wonderful friend, Stuart Michaels. Thank you for making John vivid, even to an admiring stranger.