Sunday 20 September 2015

The White Feather - Review

Union Theatre,  London


Written by Ross Clarke
Directed by Andrew Keates

Abigail Matthews

New British musical The White Feather tells the story of Georgina Briggs whose brother Harry was one of hundreds of allied soldiers executed for cowardice during the First World War and who consequently spent her life fighting for justice & a posthumous pardon. It is a show that offers us the young idealistic soldiers marching off to fight with bravado and returning, in the words of one character, 'broken'.

There are some pretty tunes in the score by Ross Clark & Matthew Strachan, with some stand out songs namely Set Them In Stone sung beautifully by Abigail Matthews as Georgina and I'll Tell You What I'm Fighting For performed with passion by Kate Brennan as Edith. Strangely, it felt as if there may be too many songs in this show, particularly in the first half. Some numbers feel prematurely cut short and a little fragmented, not helping the act’s cohesion. A notable exception is "In No Man's Land", where Lee Dillon-Stuart engages totally. The second act seems better crafted, perhaps due to fewer songs.

As Harry, Adam Pettigrew conveys the naivety of a 16 year old wanting adventure. Sadly, we don’t get to fully see his transformation from innocence to acute suffering since he is staged with his back to the audience. We need and want to see his eyes and witness Harry's fear, due to him being affected by what is now known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Unfortunately, Harry evolves into a secondary character, talked to and about, rather than the audience observing for ourselves, through Pettigrew's acting, the horror of his plight. 

There's an intriguing homosexual storyline between Edward Brown, who escapes active service due to a faked medical documents procured by the upper class Adam Davey. David Flynn plays Davey with well placed self importance, thinly veiling his insecurities. Zac Hamilton's stand out performance as Edward is perfectly placed, his solo at the end of the show a heartbreaking outpouring of grief that is genuinely touching.

A simple, striking set of a multipurpose stone wall by Tim McQuillen-Wright beautifully captures rural East Anglia in the early 1900s, transforming the space in the Union Theatre, lit with subtle skill by Neill Brickworth. 

The musical arrangements by Dustin Conrad and Martin Coslett were delightful, the trio of piano, cello and violin creating an atmosphere, almost eerie in places. 

Director Andrew Keates has developed the piece and co-written the book with Ross Clarke, for a cast of nine. The White Feather has some lovely moments within a story that spans a generation and it also marks another welcome burst of new English writing for musical theatre, but it’s not quite there yet. With some modest work, this could yet be a fine musical. 

Runs until 17th October 2015
Guest reviewer: Andy Bee

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