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A review by Pauline Flannery for EXTRA! EXTRA!


Above The Stag Theatre presents




Devised by Julian Woolford and Martin Waddington



Written by Julian Woolford


Directed by Michelle Blair



Musical Director David Barber


Original Choreographer Steven Harris


Above the Stag


17 Aug – 4 Sept 2011



Nostalgia is in the fabric drapes and whiff of the greasepaint.  And from the opening moments of BlueBirds, with its ship projection, we know we’re in for a journey. And like all good tales this is a journey about history, personal discovery, choice, and a bucket-load of life’s highs and lows.

It’s just before the end of WWII and the BlueBirds keep the home fires burning by lifting the spirits in a medley of song and variety, featuring solo and ensemble numbers, cut through with scenes that unfold their back stories. It’s a woman’s world and the men appear dislocated from it: Reg the MC refers to himself as ‘unwell’, Bobby about to turn eighteen, yet still a minor, waits to receive his call up papers, Charley returns to the troupe under the cloud of a dishonourable discharge, and Peter Peters, the skiver, all jack the lad, ill-fitting suit, perennial cigarette and catch phrase, ‘you lucky people, you lucky people’……completes the line-up.

Although BlueBirds is billed as a musical it is more a play with songs, yet this aspect is pushed to one side, literally, as most of the acting scenes are presented either extreme stage left or right. Not till the end do we see the company together as they gather to celebrate Daisy’s engagement and Bobby’s call up. This is a fault line, as the thrust of the piece is about company and collective British pluck. The characters, like the dramatic moments, are there, yet neither is given sufficient time to develop properly. The big cavil is that the actors in these scenes don’t play the space they are in. This is a shame as the quality of their dancing and singing is very good.

The stories are about first and last love, forbidden love, crossing the colour bar, and healthcare in a pre-National Health world - £120 for an operation. There’s some interesting contextual detail: the first screening of Casablanca, Meet Me in St Louis and the stage production of Blithe Spirit which the girls go dreamy over. The main structure involves the story of Daisy and her Australian lover Bill, and it’s her journey to the Australian War Memorial with her granddaughter which bookends the piece.

The ensemble numbers are confidently delivered and the rendering of Andrews Sisters’ classics such as Chattanooga Choo Choo, Accentuate the Positive, Don’t’ Sit Under the Apple Tree and Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy isa treat. Similarly, Noel Coward’s Don’t Let’s Be Beastly to the Germans and Alice Fusco’s glorious Carmen Miranda moment, all fruit and ponchos, stand out.

The finale is a dovetailing of We’ll Meet Again and Wish Me Luck As You Wave Me Goodbye, Vera Lynn iconoclasts, which the company make their own.  The musical director, David Barber, does a good job of presenting the period and style of the numbers throughout, as does Steven Harris’ choreography. Similarly, the mirror ball, projections, together with the polka dot costumes, pearls and glamorous dresses and hairdos of the girls add period detail, and Michael Brenkley’s spectrum of light completes the illusion of front and back cloth.

There is enough in BlueBirds to wallow in with the nostalgia of the 40s’ numbers. Yet less is more in the acting scenes, where shape and perspective go a long way in their presentation. Nonetheless, the energy and hutzpah of the company in the musical numbers is infectious.

Tues – Sat 7.30pm; Sun 6pm
Tickets: £14
Above the Stag
 15 Bressenden Place, London SW1E 5DD
BOX OFFICE: 020 8932 4747
Transport: Tube/National Rail – Victoria (100 metres)
Cast - Hollie Blue Huntsman, Katriona Brown, Lyndsey Dean, Alice Fusco, Katie Law, Amy Lawrence, Amber Libera, Natalie McQueen, Danielle Morris, David O’Reilly, Shelley Payne, Jayson Wheatley, Emma White

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