Wednesday 12 November 2014

Girlfriends - Review

Union Theatre, London


Music and lyrics by Howard Goodall
Written by Howard Goodall in collaboration with Richard Curtis and John Retallack
Directed by Bronagh Lagan

The women's ensemble in Girlfriends

Expect to be surrounded by glorious singing and music-making at Bronagh Lagan’s revival of Girlfriends at the Union Theatre. There is much passion in Howard Goodall’s score and in choosing a story about a group of disparate women serving on an RAF base during the Second World War, there is a poignancy that well serves the current time as we mark November’s Armistice Day.
Composed shortly after The Hired Man, Goodall sought to write a piece specifically for women’s voices.  The work serves his lofty ambitions with the opening number First Day building up to support  no less than eight simultaneous, independent vocal parts. The rich, warm sound that envelops the audience is tremendously powerful and continues throughout.

The story focuses on Amy, beautifully sung by Corrine Priest (fresh from winning the Stephen Sondheim Performer of the Year Award in May) and Lou, played poignantly by Perry Lambert both vying for Guy, a dashing but emotionally detached RAF pilot played here by tenor Tom Sterling, the strongest singer in the cast.

Although Goodall’s ringing, resonant score dominates the show, Girlfriends’ weak link is the lack of real development of any of the characters.  Whilst we follow 10 young women and 2 young men, each skilfully, or at least enthusiastically, doing their daily duties be it flying planes or making tea and each making their own emotional journey of self-discovery, understanding that at any moment lives could be cut short, not much else happens. That being said, the singing is wonderful, particularly in the duet and ensemble numbers.

Amongst the cast, strong performances come from Catrina Sandison as passionate and anxious Jas, deeply troubled by the death of her own brother and as a consequence conflicted by war itself, whilst Catherine Mort (herself no stranger to Goodall’s work having in recent years played a fabulous Emily in Andrew Keates’ The Hired Man)  is also very strong as Jane, a warm and levelling presence amongst the girls. Mort’s duet with Priest in The Chances Are proving a highlight of the evening. Accompanying, Freddie Tapner’s well rehearsed four piece band delivers precision and nuance in equal measure.

In Girlfriends Goodall has dissipated the chill of wartime with one of his richest, warmest scores. If you love his work, beautifully staged, then go see this show.

Runs until 22nd November 2014

Guest reviewer - Catherine Francoise

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