LILIES ON THE LAND
by Lions part theatre.
Arts Theatre Great Newport Street WC2H 7HB To 17 July 2010.
Tue-Sat 7.30pm Mat Wed, Thu, Sat 3pm.
Runs: 2hr 10min One interval.
TICKETS 0845 017 5584.
Review: Carole Woddis 15 June.
Important, something to be gained, but only partially successful.
In all the hagiography that surrounds World WarII one voice is frequently overlooked – the female one. Lilies on the Land, about the fantastic work done by the Women’s Land Army – the `Land Girls’ who helped to keep the nation fed – is an attempt to redress the balance. If only partly successful at least it is a more honestly authentic account than the over-glamourised 1998 film, Land Girls.
Based on the real life experiences of former WLA members, Lilies on the Land, produced by The Lion’s part and Fresh Glory Productions tells their story through four characters, Vera, Poppy, Margie, and Peggy.
Each represents a different strata of society. Poppy and Vera, for example, are southern with Home Counties cut glass accents; Peggy and Margie northern and more working-class. We are told the reasons they join up are various, from wanting to get way from home or, as in Poppy’s case, because of some hazy, over-romanticised notion of golden fields and cutting hay.
The reality, of course proves very different: dirty, back-breaking, sometimes abusive and as the war progresses, tragic as loved ones are killed.
Informative and detailed about clothing (distinctive green jumpers, breeches and dungarees), diet, work conditions and even love that happens to break through, a jovial kind of stoicism prevails that seems all too English and a touch `too nice’.
And that is the problem. Worthy subject though it is and sensitive to its period, Lilies on the Land lacks context and urgency.
Sure, we get snippets of news reports and Winston’s gravel voice. But only occasionally does a sense of drama or conflict arise. The production seems caught in a time bubble of nostalgia, and a little-islander one at that. Verbatim theatre can be more exciting than this as Motherland from Newcastle’s Live Theatre about mothers losing sons in Afghanistan proved last year.
Shamefully, it was only in 2008 that the WLA received official recognition for their wartime work. But, we only learn this from the programme. The Land Girls deserve better. Brave, largely unsung, younger generations will learn something from this. But not enough.
Margie: Dorothy Lawrence.
Peggy: Kali Peacock.
Poppy: Sarah Finch.
Vera: Rosalind Cressy.
Understudy: Elizabeth Boag.
Director: Sonia Ritter.
Designer: Jane Linz Roberts.
Lighting: Michael Scott.
Sound/Music: Peter Readman.