Ginger Hibiscus | Ginger Hibiscus | The White Feather at the Union Theatre
Ginger Hibiscus | The White Feather at the Union Theatre
Ginger Hibiscus | The White Feather at the Union Theatre
post-template-default,single,single-post,postid-19958,single-format-standard,tribe-no-js,ajax_fade,page_not_loaded,,wpb-js-composer js-comp-ver-4.2.1,vc_responsive

15 Sep REVIEW: The White Feather at the Union Theatre

One hundred years on from the outbreak of the First World War, the clanging of the funeral bells still resonates through the British countryside, a booming reminder that all of our lives are forever changed because of it. Our freedom, our culture and the emancipation of women have a lot to thank the first war effort for, particularly the very human sacrifices of the able-bodied men willing to put everything on the line to defend their King and country.

Attracted to the sense of adventure and the promise of powerful guns, 16 year old Harry Briggs lies about his age to knowing conscription officers so he can go to war – one of 250,000 underage soldiers seeking glory and excitement, but instead being confronted with the grim reality of the front line, witnessing and participating in the slaughter and mutilation of other human beings. The psychological impact of this kind of experience is something that’s still only just beginning to be examined, but the more it’s looked into, the higher the incidence rate of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) seems to be. So sending these humans into battle, including many who were barely more than boys, was always going to have its casualties, but knowing it really did happen – maybe not to someone called Harry Briggs, but to many, many people like him – is nothing short of devastating.

As the men went off to fight for King and country, stepping into their shoes at home were a generation of capable young women, sparking a revolution in gender attitudes as it forced society to reappraise the ability of women to do “men’s jobs”. And whilst it’s a combination of great strategy and effort that secured military victory for the allied forces, The White Feather also looks more closely at what happened on the home front, through the eyes of those left behind in a small Suffolk farming village.

Attempts by the writers to represent an entire community are ambitious and on the whole successful, casting the net widely to pick up on a multitude of issues of the era. Playing a key member of the community, Abigail Matthews is excellently cast as Georgina Briggs, her expansive emotional and vocal range well suited to the role, and on a similar Zac Hamilton is startlingly charming as Edward Brown, an enigmatic character the subject of one of the more interesting plot twists. But casting this net so widely makes it tricky to pin down “a story” that underlies the musical, lacking in focus as sub plots are explored in a touch too much detail – perhaps diminishing some of the more minor characters further, like Emma and Hannah, would refocus the musical without losing that glorious sense of community.

A new British musical, Ross Clark and Matthew Strachan’s composition is beautifully evocative of the English countryside, conjuring images of rolling green hills criss-crossed with dry stone walls as vivid as those created by James Nicholson’s set, with faint echoes of Howard Shore’s soundtrack to The Lord of the Rings drifting across the countryside. Played live by a keys – cello – violin trio, the sound balance works well in the small studio space with the cast’s unamplified voices, gorgeous harmonies soaring over the lovely instrumental.

More than a bit of mindless fluff, in The White Feather Ross Clark has created a musical that brings to life a pivotal moment in our nation’s history that’s fading from living memory. Rich in detail and as British as a beefeater with tea running through his veins, it’s beautiful, poignant and devastatingly engaging.

For tickets and information:
Venue: The Union Theatre
Dates: 16th September – 17th October
Images: Scott Rylander

Star Rating

Ginger Hibiscus don’t like using stars as a headline; we think they’re too reductionist, and that decision-making based on stars misses the point of a review. Just as you wouldn’t judge a personality using a five-point scale, theatre is multi-dimensional. So have a read, and then look at the stars afterwards.
Okay, fine, but how many stars do you give it? Click here