During World War Two the Eighth Army was a field formation of the British Army and fought in the North African and Italian campaigns. Its combatants weren’t just from Great Britain. Units came from Australia, British India, Canada, Free French Forces, Greece, New Zealand, Poland, Rhodesia, South Africa and the United Kingdom. Many of its soldiers were only five or six years older than the oldest of the young men from the Curve Young Company performing in the 1940s centred The Siren Club at the Curve Studio 19th – 21st April.
Devised and performed by Curve Young Company Musicals and written by Sarah Ingram, The Siren Club purports to be the hottest joint in town. Harking back, rather pleasurably and with some nostalgic poignancy, to the frolics and emotional times of the war torn 1940s, we find ourselves in the beautifully made up Curve Studio and bang in the centre of The Siren Club. It is complete with a scintillating live band (The Robert Smyth Academy Big Band) with plenty of dancing/performing space, and some rather authentic posters of the period.
The 1940s atmosphere is set before we even take our places and wait for the show to unfold. This proposes to be a fantastic evening of very British cabaret entertainment giving the brave Eighth Army recruits the send off they deserve! Will any of them fall for the sweet and lovely English girls before they depart the shores of Blighty?
Will there be much heartache and lost love across the foreign seas until they hopefully return intact, and will they still find themselves in love? With this mood of hope and last ‘hurrahs’ the sentiment of the evening is on an immediate and sometimes very sentimental high! A tear or to might even be shed by those famously, ever optimistic. bluebirds ‘Over The White Cliffs of Dover’.
So, ladies and gentlemen, as Archie Wells ( Finlay Watkinson as the smooth host and MC of the evening) brightly says “Let’s sing, dance and fall in love like tomorrow never comes!” Cue drama! Cue lights! Cue music!
The show is very inclusive, one might even say immersive, and some in the audience may well find themselves on the dance floor with the cast. With Sarah Ingram’s super sharp direction and choreography by Mel Knott and Darren Bennett, even if you aren’t out there on the dance floor itself, your heart and soul can’t help but be ‘dancing’ with the unknown destinies of the characters of this vital 1940s show. It could well be the last dance you will ever have! Bombing raids can happen any time!
The impression is that the actors have researched their characters well and stay with them throughout even in times of supposéd imminent danger! And boy oh boy, when that very loud air raid siren goes off at the interval, and you flee the club to safety, like this startled reviewer, your trembling heart may well be in your mouth. But fear not good audience! You are in good hands. The gifted Curve Young Company are with you all the way!
There are no bombing raids in Leicester tonight. Thank the Lord! By the end of the interval and a very stiff drink or two, we return to the safety of our swiftly vacated seats and the already high energy increases with the young company and music from the terrifically talented live band! Indeed, to be precise, we get off to a thrilling re-start with Benny Goodman’s “Sing Sing Sing!”
There are thirty three in the cast and there are many personal stories unfolding and many 1940s songs beautifully sung throughout. This reviewers’ favourites are ‘In The Mood’, ‘Little Brown Jug’ and the super hip ‘Pennsylvania 6-5000’ a swing jazz and pop standard originally recorded by The Glenn Miller Orchestra themselves in 1940.
As the urgency of the music dictates the dance rhythms, so do the urgency of the times inform impulsive decisions to suddenly propose to ones dance partner you met ten seconds ago. Or one could simply dance the night away to the point of exhaustion to try to forget the dangers around and possibly ahead.
This terrific cast express this hedonistic attitude so well you’d believe they have actually been through the frights and fights of World War Two! There is so much commitment in their portrayals it gives one great faith in the future of young peoples theatre. You might say this is equal to the optimistic attitudes of the original peoples on the cusp of war back in the 1940s.
The final happening of the Eighth Army soldiers leaving to fight is superbly done and a testament to the maturity of the young cast and the direction by Sarah Ingram. Misquoted maybe but… “Good bye -ee. Wipe the tear baby dear from your eye – ee!” Too late. Sobbing reviewer alert. Although sad, the ending remains optimistic via a love poem and the words from ‘The White Cliffs Of Dover.’
Reviewer: Phil Lowe.
Photo credit: Pamela Raith.