War Songs – a ﬁnal year PCI student production – described itself as a “new verbatim musical”. Using real stories and real memories from the last 100 years of war (timed to coincide with the centenary) this beautiful and moving piece of theatre was effortlessly executed.
Rather than a set narrative, the piece consisted of snippets of theatrical moments that built layer upon layer, depicting the hardships of war from every angle. Opening with a sequence in which soldiers returned from war to greet their loved ones nicely set up the tone of the piece, foregrounding its focus on the consequence of war on human relationships.
The show’s best asset was undoubtedly its strong chorus numbers, with the particular highlight of a scene that portrayed the harsh realities of Army life. With some spectacular ﬁrst-class choreography the cast conducted a gruelling bootcamp-style workout across the ﬂoor of the stage, incorporating sit ups, press ups and a whole host of jumps and turns, whilst maintaining faultless vocals and characterisation, an extraordinary piece of theatrical discourse.
Other notable highlights included a focus on the mother of a conscientious objector; honing in on this somewhat overlooked outcome of war was a thoughtful touch and the simplicity of its execution was well considered. As the mother read out a letter of support for her son from the government, the cast threw white feathers – the mark of cowardice – over him, allowing the controversy over this sensitive issue to be reinstated.
From a musical standpoint War Songs fully asserted its strength. The music was pleasant and emotive and the live piano playing or singing was without fault. Although lyrically it seemed a little obvious, I feel this must be put down to the piece’s verbatim style. Theatrically tackling a subject like war does not leave space to commit offence, and in adhering to contrivance in this way War Songs ensured this did not happen.
War Songs’ bold set was another resounding triumph. A huge mesh gauze littered with leaves hung from the back of Stage One, and during the performance the letters and bits of material the cast had used to create the piece were pegged upon it. The fanfare at the end, complete with the falling of poppies from the roof ensured War Songs ended without a dry eye in the house. I also have great respect for the cast’s choice to sacriﬁce their curtain call due to the subject matter of the performance.
This particular group of PCI students undoubtedly proved their worth with War Songs, creating a thought-provoking piece that tackled a very sensitive issue with intelligence and skill.
Images: George A. Rodosthenous