Eine Kleine Nichtmusik

Witty and pertinent observations on matters of great significance OR Incoherent jottings on total irrelevancies OR Something else altogether OR All of the above

Monday, August 18, 2008

Only The Brave, George Square Theatre, 9 August

This is the world premiere production of a musical by Matthew Bond, Stephen Coleman and Rachel Wagstaff, loosely based on the story of John Howard, commander of the D-day force which captured the Pegasus bridge. Renamed as John Coombes, he was played here by Gerard Bentall (Les Miserables, Whistle Down the Wind) and his wife by Cassidy Janson (fresh from appearing as Elphaba in Wicked in London). I suspect though that most of the pre-production excitement was generated by the other couple in the story, Charlie and Belle, played by Keith Jack (runner-up in last year's Any Dream Will Do on television) and Niamh Perry (placed fourth in the similar casting show I'd Do Anything just a few months back).

This production seems to have been dogged by bad luck. We had booked to see it on Thursday 7th, but that was a day of heavy rain and flooding throughout Eastern Scotland. The theatre was unaffected: however, the musical director was stranded in Berwick, so the show did not go on (though the cast appeared and sang to the disappointed crowd a bit). Our tickets were revalidated for the Saturday evening, and back we went. The performance began rather later, which turned out to be because the lighting panel had completely stopped working. The performance this time did go ahead, but with stage lighting consisting of a general wash. This was less of a handicap than you might might think, though Keith Jack did have to sing his big duet with Niamh while standing in shadow. (Still, being forced to look at Niamh was no hardship.)

The show as we saw it was a shortened version of the full thing, and I like to think that the story would have hung together better at full length. For example, there's a sub-plot involving Belle and a German soldier that goes nowehere and is simply confusing. Certainly there wasn't very much character development. There's the core of a decent musical there, but I think it needs some more work. The oddest thing must be the treatment of John Coombes's death. As in real life, his wife was told of his death in error ("mortar wound" confused with "mortal wound"). Now that's an idea with great dramatic potential; but why throw that potential away by having him actually die later on in the battle? (In real life he survived.) I doubt the creators of the show are going to change the ending to fix that: but they really should, as it's just plain daft at present.

All four of the central performances were very strong indeed. Niamh as Belle doesn't get to dance, though she appears as an anonymous girl at a dance hall earlier and struts her stuff brilliantly. (We know it's not Belle because it's a London dance and Belle is a French nurse in France.) Both her singing and her dancing are well up to the standard we have come to expect from I'd Do Anything. Her lack of stage experience (she's 18, just finished her A-levels, and this is her first professional production) shows mostly in her not very riveting acting. (Though the shortened script does her no favours there.) Keith Jack was great. We saw him as the narrator in Joseph when it toured to Edinburgh last year, and he was just as good here. The show itself is no Joseph, of course. The music rather resembles Les Mis ("lots of tunes with big intervals", said Hilary), and like that show its strongest numbers are the big set pieces. I think I was alone among my family in not finding "Oh Mrs Hitler" (a bit of comic relief, very well done) the best number. Maybe I was in a darker mood, because the stand-out for me was "Letter Writers", in which we see seven (I think) women all composing letters to tell women their husbands or sons have been killed. Both musically and dramatically I thought that one could hold its head up in any company. (Cassidy Janson's contribution as the letter-writer who suddenly realises that the letter she's writing concerns her own husband should be acknowledged.)

Overall, a good show but not a great one, though it could be a great one with a little revision. Keith Jack goes from strength to strength, and Niamh Perry makes an auspicious debut.