Well, here’s yet another musical that concerns itself with WWII nostalgia: uniforms; hummable ditties; 2-dimensional characters; and lashings of escapism. If that’s your bag, you may enjoy this. The music is certainly often very appealing: Andy Street has good creds in the tunesmith department, and there are several numbers here that will not fail to charm. Most of them get sung by the starriest presence on stage, Sooz Henshaw (aka Kempner, I do believe): ‘He’s a dinosaur’ is a damn fine tune, in fact, much too good, really, for the lyric attached to it. Jonathan Kydd, a name I remember most vividly from the 1970s ITV kids’ show, ‘Rainbow’, and who here is the driving force behind this bizarre tale of wartime hijinks. He doesn’t write a script so much as a rag-tag collection of sketches, which lurch wildly and unexpectedly tonally and stylistically, this way and that, with apparently no other aim in mind than filling the space between opening and finale, much in the manner of a zany revue. Or, is it? His lyrics rejoice in the same ad-hoc improvisational mood. If your technical expectations aren’t too high, you may find this rather endearing. On the other hand, you might just take it at face value and believe that it is really trying to tell a story in the form of a musical, in which case, you might judge the work rather more sternly.
There is a large cast assembled for the purpose. Paul Ryan, Paul Croft, Reggie Oliver, Paul Storrier, Michael Sadler, Sebastian Kainth, Conor Cook and Luke Farrugia do the honours in taking on umpteen different parts, but none of them quite manages to get material better than Evan Boutsov, whose chief asset here seems to be his impressive physique, shown off repeatedly in all its bare-chested glory. The musical numbers are often adorned with the gyrating forms of Kate Haughton and Viva Foster, with Swing Grace Keeble also on hand, in Gianna Burright’s busy choreography. Baska Wesolowska provides a smart-looking set of multi-purpose if rather heavy and awkward to move filing cabinets and also a cinema screen, and there are some rather rushed film clips by Kydd himself. It’s all rather cosy and well-meaning, but you really have to wonder if they actually thought it would add up to make an actual musical. Jonathan Moore is the director here, and doesn’t attempt to plumb any depths of character or explore any opinions.
Kydd’s script is nothing if not ‘fourth form’. His ideas – and jokes – are also as old as World War 2 itself. So, if you’re prepared to accept the anachronisms, the out-moded viewpoints, the creaking attitudes, then this may wring a chuckle or two from you. However, you are just as likely to find yourself cringing. It’s not altogether clear to me whether that is deliberately ‘ironic’, or not. His aim seems to have been to create a kind of cross-breed between Spamalot, the Carry On stable, Blackadder, and The Producers. It’s a collagistic approach that doesn’t really end up with anything that is identifiably its own self. Perhaps that really doesn’t matter to Mr Kydd. Let’s hope he can find an audience that is as carefree as he is.