As the dark nights are drawing in and evenings call for cosying up at home with Downton Abbey, something wonderful is happening at the Union Theatre (awarded Most Welcoming Venue in the West End Wilma Awards 2014) that will warm your heart and fill your midweek Crawley-shaped hole.
The talented Andrew Keates directs his new musical The White Feather, co-written with Ross Clark, which tells the story a Suffolk town affected by the fears and complexities of the First World War. As young Harry Briggs, a boy of 16 enlists to fight, his sister Georgina is left behind to manage the Estate of wealthy gentleman Mr Davey who becomes Harry’s commanding officer.
As we delve into the darkness of war with some of the most sensitive issues regarding cowardice, homosexuality and what we now know to be Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, secrets creep to the surface and shocking revelations are discovered. A broken Harry returns from the front line on leave, consumed by the horrors of war and despite his devastating condition he returns to the trenches and faces an unthinkable fate for desertion.
Devoted Georgina embarks on a plight to clear his name and earn Harry the pardon he truly deserves and release him of the stigma surrounding his execution. For a heavy drama, Clark and Keates tell the story in a gentle and tender manner. It’s not all doom and gloom and there’s uplifting relief in the form of Georgina’s close friend Edith, played by the gifted Katie Brennan who injects a wonderful charm and vivacity to the production that lifts the darker moments. Equally Christopher Blades adds flashes of humour as local countryman, particularly in his scenes with the brilliant Zac Hamilton as Eddie, with musical number It’ll All Be Over By Christmas.
The score by Ross Clark (with the addition of Dustin Conrad and Martin Coslett) is wonderfully folksy creating a true wartime, camaraderie vibe, which is delivered by a talented trio of musicians. The melodies are beautifully catchy with lovely tones and uncomplicated structure. Set Them in Stone is a particularly poignant song that is really touching and tugs at the heart strings.
The White Feather delivers a strong ensemble cast, who carry the music with their talent and flair. Abigail Matthews sings with a gentle quality that perfectly suits the nature of her character and is simply captivating to watch. In addition, Adam Pettigrew and David Flynn shine as the adolescent Harry and complex Mr Davey.
The story flits between eras, that at times becomes a little confusing without a programme to follow, however with a few edits I feel this new piece of writing could be extraordinary. It tackles a deep topic with sensitivity and warmth and has sincerity at its heart.
There’s ultimately a feel good ending that leaves you with a warm fuzzy feeling as you go out into the cold evening, so get on down to the Union Theatre and catch this little gem.