In the 80th anniversary year of the beginning of the Second World War and the 75th commemoration of D-Day, what could be more fitting for CTW to bring to the stage but a tribute to the work of the Women’s Land Army (WLA) or Land Girls?
Based on anecdotes from over one hundred real women’s experiences, Lilies on the Land by the Lions part uses narrative to tell the tales of four different but typical Land Girls and how they learnt to cope out of their comfort zone. It is never an easy task to bring narrative to life on the stage, particularly with a simple set and a small cast. However, here the directorial team of Mark Preston and Martin Robinson have obviously worked hard to enable the audience to visualise the scenarios via effective use of mime, choreography, expressive dialogue and non-verbal cues.
Solid performances from all four lead cast members help considerably here too.
Rachel Curren is particularly effective in invoking the character of upper-class Poppy, so obviously unused to getting her hands dirty with menial tasks. CTW newcomer, Suzy White appears equally at home as educated and resourceful career girl, Vera and also sensitively conveys perhaps the most poignant moment in the whole production. Jacquie Newman is convincing enough as eager Peggy that one or two first night line stumbles are remarkably unobtrusive. Her sense of achievement at successfully delivering a calf is palpable and touching as is her growing affection for farmer Jim. Jane Fielding seems most at ease when portraying the lighter side of Margie’s story, receiving one of the biggest laughs of the night for taking a cow to be ‘covered’ in full view of local lads.
Much credit has to go to Fern McLean and Iain Holding Sutton for displaying great versatility in their depiction of numerous and diverse roles which although small were theatrically vital. McLean is a particularly powerful presence in the sequence where Vera discovers the fate of her friend Angie. Holding Sutton, on the other hand, ably conveys the essence of an American GI, a creepy farmhand or a belligerent, bullying farmer complete with passable Scouse accent!
The inclusion of contemporary songs to mark the progress of the interweaving stories allow the cast to show their ability to sing in harmony although on occasion, they make the production feel a little disjointed. An Anglo-German rendition of ‘Silent Night/Stille Nacht’ is particularly haunting and acts as a timely reminder of the futility of war. The valedictory Land Army song, ‘Back to the Land’ is also suitably stirring.
Lighting comes into its own to transform the theatre into a dance hall as well as to cleverly denote fireworks on V.E. Day. Sound effects were well thought out too, although once or twice the timing could have been tighter.
A lot of attention to detail has gone into making this a historically accurate account, down to the authentic green jumpers, dungarees and thick knee socks that made up the WLA uniform. The overall impression paints a picture that former Land Girls and their families would undoubtedly recognise and later generations may well find charming and perhaps even gently inspiring.