Theatre in Wales

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At Wales Millennium Centre

Only the Brave- Wales Millennium Centre/Soho Theatre/Daniel Sparrow Productions and Birdsong Productions , Wales Millennium Centre , April 1, 2016
At Wales Millennium Centre by Only the Brave- Wales Millennium Centre/Soho Theatre/Daniel Sparrow Productions and Birdsong Productions I went to war last night. I was in good company. It really did happen. The story behind this strong and
totally captivating, first ever major musical production created by the Millennium Centre itself was
based on a vital and memorable action that happened in the second world war. “inspired by true accounts shared by those directly affected.”

The production wrapped itself so tightly and emotionally around the packed audience that there was a feeling that, as well as watching, we all felt deeply involved. The ever-changing set by Michael Vale, Chris Full’s sound design, the projections and the awesome pyrotechnic flashes and explosions drew us into the atmosphere and the horrors of war.

But it was of course a people story and there were wonderful people to meet, the young men, all recent recruits to the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry. Wally Parr, Tony Baines, Billy Gray, the always-late Davey Lawrence, Jim Wallwork and Young Charlie Eckhart. The actors Thomas Aldridge, Karl Queensborough, Max Bowden , Gwydion Rhys, Steffan Lloyd-Evans and David Albury all sunk deep into their roles and all gave, like every artist in this production, totally faultless performances. They were the core at this wonderful ensemble production.

Boss man of the platoon was Captain John Howard, giving us vocal magic from the commanding presence of David Thaxton and equally from Caroline Sheen, his heavily pregnant wife Joy. With second in command Lieutenant Denham Brotheridge, they put the men through their paces. Neil McDemott captured both the ‘menace’ of the soldier and the tenderness of a loving husband, the short scenes with his young wife, played perfectly by Emilie Fleming, gentle and moving, sharing their anxieties with us. He brought a quality of humanity to his singing that was totally absorbing. Everyone sang us the story with perfection, capturing exactly the characters they played. But not characters on a stage, these were real people.

With boxing, gymnastics and skipping the young men were put through their training, preparing for for the job to come. All engagingly choreographed by Alistair David. They were given an outline of the task. The first act ended with a fine fully voiced rendering of one of the show’s powerful numbers Band of Brothers and the tension mounted.

The boys are to be flown into enemy territory by silent gilder set to land on an ‘impossible’ site near the Benouville Bridge in Northern France as part of the preparation for the D-Day landings. The landing is successful apart from one minor injury. Aware of the enemy bullets flying around them the gang celebrates in song with the upbeat ‘Pegasus Bridge’. This is the name that has since been given to the bridge and the memorial that stands to commemorate this action.

There seems to be a lull in the proceedings, the boys produce a kettle and mugs and start to make and sing ‘Cuppa Tea’. An extraordinary jolly number in complete contrast to the drama around them. Such is the wonder of this event that we get a full rendition from the full company. In war you do need a strong sense of humour.

Madame Vion, a French aristocrat and a young waitress, Jenny were a knot of the French Resistance feeding information back to our men. Again fine and very realistic performances from Helen Hobson and Nikki Mae. Eventually they are treated very badly, staged in a quite horrific way. Graham Macduff as Major Von Luck gives us absolute conviction. He also does a great ‘war in the blood’ performance as the British top man General Gale.

The big gun is fired at the enemy tank as it mounts the bridge. It looks as if the task has been completed. But things don’t quite work out. We have a very delicate moment of human sadness as the wives receive the dreaded letter about their husbands. But we are made aware, not only of the horrors of war but also of the strengths of the human character and tenderness. In this unique intelligent production theatricality and reality are perfectly conjoined. We get a big, very moving and rewarding show. Quite one of the best to come out of the eleven year old Millennium Centre. I feel sure we will be seeing more of it.

“Only the Brave forgive.”

Production: Only The Brave

Company: Wales Millennium Centre/Soho Theatre/Daniel Sparrow Productions and Birdsong Productions

Venue: Wales Millennium Centre

Date: 28 March – 2 April

Reviewed by: Michael Kelligan

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