Above a lovely pub in the wilds of Fulham there is a show called When You Say Goodbye which, at this time of celebration of WWI reminds the audience of the true cost of war. We are welcomed by Colette (Lauren Brown) a chanteuse at a provincial French café. World-weary and wise, she opens proceedings with a wonderful rendition of “Les Amantes D’un Jour” and instantly the scene is set and we are transported back to the late 1930s and a world where once more, nations are at war.
The action moves from France to the valleys of Wales where we meet Huw (Sam Rabbitt) and Gwen (Danielle Marsh), two young people falling in love. They are ordinary, humdrum really. They go to the cinema, they eat chips, they drink tea, and they fall deeper and deeper for each other. Their lives are perfect, but in reality, we know that very soon Huw will be heading off to fight another man’s war. Gwen looks sweet and innocent (you do wonder if they have ever consummated their marriage but know if they have, she wanted the lights out and probably lay back and thought of Wales) but underneath she has that steely determination to protect her man that sets her apart from Huw, a sheep led by fools in many respects.
There is a wonderful scene just before he leaves for France where Gwen questions the whole reason for war. As Huw trots out the official, media supplied justification like he is reciting a piece for school, Gwen talks about the human element. The mothers/sweethearts/wives in Berlin having the same conversation as they send their men off to another place to fight strangers for a reason they don’t really understand.
Once in France at the café, we stay with the two lovers as they exchange letters. Huw is bored – the ‘phony war’ just doesn’t suit him – while Gwen is getting on with life back home. Colette sings a truly amazing song “It Always Rains Before the Rainbow” my personal favourite of the night, and a wonderful foreshadowing of what is to come.
Inevitably, the war moves up a gear and Huw, who was complaining about digging trenches, has to start digging graves for friends before finally, he too joins the ranks of those destined to stay in the Café forever. I loved the way this happened. A skilfully executed piece of choreography between actor and lighting director told so much in a split second of action. Gwen is left with just a telegram telling her his fate, and the realisation she has to get on with the rest of her life without him. Once more, we see her steel as she rants about the politicians who are safe at home while sending others to fight for them. It struck me at this point that there was a double hurt here as, in addition to the original injustice of Huw’s death, the people responsible for sending him there were not even from the same country. No wonder the Welsh want home rule.
I really liked this show. The songs by Harry Parr Davies and Marguerite Monnot were, on the whole unknown, but at the same time surprisingly familiar (I blame re-runs of Dad’s Army) and fitted the mood and story perfectly. Sam Rabbitt was superb in the role of Huw, though my old Drill Sergeant would have gone apoplectic looking at his puttees, with a fantastic stage presence and a truly amazing singing voice that really reflected the emotions of the songs. I was told by my companion that some of the French pronunciation was a bit iffy but to me, with my schoolboy knowledge of French, the songs were perfect. As with opera, you don’t need to understand the language to experience the emotion of the words.
Is this an anti-war musical along the lines of “Oh What a Lovely War”? Possibly it could be seen as such, but in reality it’s a simple story of people in love, separated for all eternity by the actions of others.
Ultimately, you can’t ask for much more than a great show, in a wonderful setting and When You Say Goodbye really fits the bill.
Review by Terry Eastham
When You Say Goodbye
This new show from Equinox Theatre aims to put the songs of Harry Parr Davies centre stage once again, in this his centenary year. Born in South Wales in 1914, Harry Parr Davies was a prolific songwriter who wrote for Gracie Fields, George Formby, Jessie Matthews, Jack Buchanan and many other stars of the day. He had a number of musicals produced in the West End including THE LISBON STORY at the London Hippodrome and DEAR MISS PHOEBE at the Phoenix. His songs have an evocative naive charm.
At the same time, on the other side of the Channel, Marguerite Monnot was writing beautiful songs for her good friend Edith Piaf. Monnot later went on to write the musical IRMA LA DOUCE. (Recently revived in New York)
“Marguerite Monnot is the woman I most admire in the whole world” – Edith Piaf
Cast of three young performers: Lauren Brown, Sam Rabbitt and Danielle Marsh All recent graduates from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama.
Running at London Theatre Workshop (London’s newest boutique theatre).
Wednesday 6th – Saturday 23rd August
London Theatre Workshop
65 New King’s Road, London SW6 4SG (above the Eel Brook pub)
Saturday 9th August 2014