Re-View: ‘Girlfriends’

London, The Arts

Ye Old Rose & Crown Theatre Pub is in unlovely Walthamstow, a working class area of London few visitors make it to, but which has an appealing frankness. (One shop boasts a 4 metre-long red plastic sign reading ‘Cheap Booze’). Here above the rambling, shabby Victorian pub is an archetypal fringe venue; small stage, nice little bar, local audience. Clearly what they also have is a great director, because this is a knockout production.

‘Girlfriends’ concerns the experiences of the WW2 RAF girls who guide home bomber pilots, pack parachutes and handle menial tasks for the squadron. Or at least, it was. I first saw it at London’s Playhouse Theatre with Hazel O’Connor in the lead, but that version only ran a week. Howard Goodall is a brilliant composer in search of a book, and changed the play’s plot in the middle of its run. Back then it was a dark piece about bullying and black widows, the girls who date pilots who die, and the superstition that surrounds them when they date another pilot still with missions to fly. It ended with the lead pilot’s death.

Now Goodall has junked that plot entirely, replacing it with a love story. This almost works – if only he hadn’t turned the lead pilot into a smirking caricature cad. But it’s the women who make it sublime.

It’s a beautifully sung ensemble piece with excellent orchestrations for seven women and two men, filled with the kind of rich harmonics Goodall effortlessly produces.He’s moved away from songs in favour of a complex sound tapestry with re-emerging themes that he occasionally over-repeats. Although the show is slightly too long, it remains powerful, involving theatre.

The entire cast performs at West End standard, with Emma Manley and Harriet Dobby as standouts. At just £15 a ticket (and a short trip up the Victoria Line if it’s running) it’s a memorable night out – and still has a week left to run. Somewhere on this site is a sample track, too.

4 comments on “Re-View: ‘Girlfriends’”

  1. Helen Martin says:

    Makes me want to see what is on in our own neighbourhood. I assume Mr. Goodall wrote as well as composed. A tragedy about that time period should be acceptable or can we not take tragedy any more? I know I prefer a happier ending but I can usually deal with a sad one.

  2. Terenzio says:

    Oh! What a Lovely Pub or do I mean Oh! What a Lovely War…I do get things so muddled sometimes. Seriously though it sounds look like a great pub (a little northwast of Islington) that serves real ales and cider and they have a pool table…these days more and more pubs seems to be getting rid of them…plus the building itself is interesting from an architectural standpoint. There are pubic spaces for art exhibitions, concerts (recitals) and lectures; in addition, to the theatre…a real community center. A shame more pubs aren’t like this one. A real asset to the community.

    I shall retire to my boudoir to ponder the decline of the pubs of the Victorian and Edwardian eras and why people would rather drink cheap beer and wine from Tesco alone at home instead of in a convivial atmosphere like a pub from olden days. It’s not the quantity, but the quality that counts. Today I am sans dressing gown and lounging about à la nudité because it’s a tad on the warmish side and my exquisite purple dressing gown does get me hot and bothered on days like this. I also had to forgo wearing these gorgeous kilim slippers I picked whilst on a trip to Istanbul recently. I do enjoy the hot weather, but sometimes it does play havoc with my aesthetic sensibilities in fashion.

    À Bientôt…….

  3. Helen Martin says:

    O Terenzio, it might be an idea if you checked your post before retiring to your boudoir, with or without that wonderful purple dressing gown. (The first job I ever had was in a newspaper office where I learned to proof read.)

  4. Terenzio says:

    Perhaps subconsciously I have this need to be corrected by others so I make little mistakes without knowing it in the hope someone will point out my error and admonish me for being a very very very very naughty boy. Psychoanalysis would probably reveal as a child I didn’t get enough attention or as a baby I didn’t get enough pleasure out of sucking my thumb. In future I shall mind my p’s and q’s or do I mean a’s and e’s.

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