By: Alan Plater
Directed by: Mark Babych
Venue: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre
Date: Monday 5th March 2007
I really enjoyed myself tonight. The story was good, the acting very entertaining, and the music was excellent. What more could I ask?
The play covers one day in the life of a teenage girl, who joins a wartime all-girl band, and ends up playing and singing on radio that night. It’s topped and tailed by her granddaughter, played by the same actress, who says it’s the story her grandma told her after she’s sung her grandma’s favourite song for her birthday.
We get to see the motley crew assemble in a cold theatre space with some bomb damage, especially to the drums. The band leader has been in the business for years, and is the usual hard-bitten type with a heart of gold, though it doesn’t often get used. Her regulars are a trumpet player whose husband was taken prisoner by the Japanese, so she’s had no news of him for months, a bass player whose husband went down on the Royal Oak, and an Australian piano player. All were good musicians, but I particularly liked the bass player – very funky.
First to audition is a schoolgirl (granny), who joins in their warm-up number on the clarinet. A gifted musician, she later plays the saxophone first time out with no practice, but that’s theatre for you. The next to audition is a nun, who entertains them with a George Formby number – she can play a number of instruments, and her enthusiasm is very obvious – perhaps explaining why the Mother Superior thinks she would be such a valuable asset to the war effort somewhere other than the convent!
Next there’s the upper class totty – a good looking woman who has that irritating ability to just pick up any old instrument and get a tune out of it, by ear – no reading sheet music for her. Her commanding officer has sent her along, after hearing that the band needed new members – it’s amazing the effect a large group of GIs can have on female morale. At least the girls in the band are never short of nylons!
Finally, the new drummer turns up, only he’s not quite what they were expecting. He’s basically a chancer on the run from his call-up papers, and they reluctantly agree to take him on for one night only, as it’s their big opportunity to show what they can do on the radio. The two existing members have naturally got a down on him, as their men have done the decent thing, so towards the end of the concert, the leader, Betty, announces he’s enlisting, which he does.
We see the auditions, some rehearsals, as the band shelters in the theatre’s basement during an air raid, and then the concert, and it’s a great combination of good fun and moving stories. I really liked the way the ladies stayed in character throughout, especially the over-enthusiastic nun, and the naive schoolgirl, almost wetting herself with excitement at being in the band. Even hitting the triangle almost gave her an orgasm.
There was some interesting historical stuff, too, such as the band not being able to announce where they were playing on air, in case the Germans came and bombed the place. And there was a lot of humour, like the joke about the nun and the penguin, although the real nun wasn’t too happy. We enjoyed it, though.
© 2007 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me