The White Feather by Ross Clark at the Union Theatre

It’s been a while since we walked out of a new musical singing, dancing and whistling the tunes, but that’s exactly what we did coming out of The White Feather. This brand new British musical by Ross Clark with Arion Productions left a mark on us like no other musical in recent memory. It brought together the historical and tragic story of World War I deserters, with excellent music and lyrics, fantastic singing and performances from the entire cast and evocative staging, sets and lighting.

The story starts just before the outbreak of war in a small community in Suffolk. The people sing whimsically of what it is to be a true Suffolk man, unaware of the horrors that are awaiting them in the looming conflict. After a military procession through the village some local boys sign up, including 16-year-old Harry Briggs, who keeps his age a secret. His sister objects, but is powerless to stop him. Once at the front line he encounters by chance his local landowner, Mr Davey, for whom he worked. He also has a few secrets. Harry falls victim to shell-shock in the trenches and is then court-martialled when he struggles to follow orders. His sister is then left with the task of trying to defend his name and have him pardoned.

There is much more to this story than I am putting down, as I do not want to  spoil it for those who will want to go, for I strongly urge all who read this to get tickets for this remarkable show. Deserters and conscientious objectors received public opprobrium and this play is a fascinating portrayal of the attitudes feeding it. The practice of giving men white feathers for cowardice, is absolutely abhorrent. The story of two men who were given white feathers while playing golf one weekend in Wimbledon comes to mind. Two women stormed onto the green to thrust white feathers into their hands, only to find out that these men were soldiers on leave from six months at the front, enjoying a game of golf and brief respite from the mustard gas, barbed wire and the enemy’s artillery. How insensitive and ignorant people were of others’ situations and the realities of the First World War.

The emotional range of the story was evident in the music, transporting us from the idyllic Suffolk countryside to the horrors of the front line. This was realised with some lovely voices and expert playing form the pianist, cellist and violinist. The songs were performed excellently by the wonderful cast of Christopher Blades, Katie Brennan, David Flynn, Zac Hamilton, Cameron Leigh, Abigail Matthews, Adam Pettigrew, Kathryn Rutherford and Lee Dillon Stuart, who brought an honesty and naturalism to the show. ‘No Man’s Land’ stood out strongly for its terrible and bleak subject matter. This powerful music and many of the other songs stayed with us long after the show.

A tremendous well done must be given to Ross Clark for his music and lyrics as well as to Andrew Keates for his direction and co-writing. We hope these two keep writing, directing and producing music theatre like this for many years to come. Although the whole team behind this show deserves a huge congratulations. It wowed us on every level, from the performance of the musicians to the design of the set. The abstract painted wall at the back of the theatre evoked both the trees and clouds of Suffolk and the smoke and explosions of war, whilst the high-tech lighting of The Union Theatre was extremely effective in adding to the shows impact.

Every element of this production was of the highest standard. See this with your friends, your family, your school, your partners, or just go if you want to see a brand new British musical that shows you exactly what music theatre is all about! On until 17th October at The Union Theatre in Southwark, get your tickets before they sell out!

Highlight of the show – a jolly pub scene interrupted by a soldier’s visit and his song about the horrors of war, immediately followed by a sudden transition to the front line to witness Harry’s reduced physical state.

WIGS 5/5

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