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V for Victory
The Stockwell Playhouse
27th March 2018

★★★★☆

When you think of the Occupation, your mind automatically drifts across the Channel to mainland Europe. Or at least, my mind does - must be a side effect of growing up to reruns of 'Allo 'Allo. However, during World War II, our closer neighbours Jersey and Guernsey were both invaded by the Nazis as well. New musical V for Victory is set in Jersey immediately before German forces landed on the island and tells a story of determination, resilience and tragedy.

A lot of Anthony Orme's book is heavily signposted, which you would expect. It's a musical about WWII - there will be Nazis, there will be a Resistance and you betcha there will be a boy pining for an attractive girl who is out of his league. It's almost mandatory. Despite the predictability of the blossoming relationship between humble fruit and veg man Thomas Carter (Aaron Bannister-Davies) and Bailiff's daughter Liz Edwards (Georgina Rose Hanson) - and remember, a Bailiff is the head honcho of Jersey, so his daughter is as close to a princess as you can get - we really warm to the couple. It doesn't even matter that we're supposed to like them; we willingly go along with it.

Some of the most natural, heart-warming moments in the musical are in Bannister-Davies and Hanson's scenes together. The throwaway comedic lines about silly little things like singing and childhood memories show us the awkward romantic tension in their early interactions and the more comfortable, relaxed behaviour once their relationship is established. There's a very believable chemistry between the pair and we find ourselves rooting for a happily ever after for Thomas and Liz.

It's a shame we don't feel as invested in barkeep Joe (Gary O'Brien), whose mournful song about missing his family doesn't have any emotional clout. Although O'Brien belts out each word competently, Gunther Fiala's melody itself just doesn't grab us. His character's backstory is clear and his situation desperately sad, so it should be easy for him to get the audience in sniffles. And yet, no hankies are necessary. Whilst it is possible that more time is spent developing Joe's character in the full-length book to gain a stronger reaction, I don't think it is a lack of emotional attachment to Joe that lets down his big solo - it's the song itself.

There are some issues with the accompaniment and vocals that really come down to bedding into a venue for only a two-night run, with the female singers suffering the most from this. Leanne Coupland delivers a belting performance as Judy, fighting with the backing music and winning. With the others, we lose a lot of the lower notes, which sometimes makes it hard to make out Dries Janssens' lyrics. However, these are the sort of niggles that would resolve themselves in a longer run, perhaps in a larger theatre. V for Victory is a compelling tale and I would really like to see it be staged as a full-length version with a live orchestra.

Even allowing for the suspension of disbelief that is generally granted to musicals, it is incredible that one of the islanders (Alice Merivale) is shot and largely shrugs this off. And following this incident, you would expect a gun-carrying Nazi soldier to inspire more fear. More apprehension from the ensemble would really help in making the subsequent scenes feel plausible and thus hard-hitting. In the moments before the invasion, we sense the Islanders' palpable terror, exacerbated by the sounds of planes and Martin Bristow's lighting design, but we never really revisit this same degree of doom again.

We do miss out on some of the character development through watching an abridged version, but we get to know Dani (Lottie Johnson) reasonably well. She represents one of the many women who stepped up when all the men went off to fight and there was no one left to run things. Dani is strong, feisty and inherently likeable. Although Colonel Stolzmann (Klemens Koehring) is portrayed as the two-dimensional big bad, we see some more shades of grey in Captain Gunther Schneider (Alex Wadham) and Bailiff Edwards (Ben Eagle).

It's obvious that V for Victory has a lot of potential. Whilst we don't get to see all of it in this shorter extract, what we do get is enough to draw us into island life and entertain and move us. A brave new piece which hopefully will undergo some final tweaks before getting its own full length run in a larger venue.

V for Vicory ran from 26th to 27th March at the Stockwell Playhouse

Nearest tube station: Stockwell (Northern, Victoria)



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