NODA REVIEW: Lilies on the Land

Directed by Mark Preston assisted by Martin Robinson.

This was my first visit to CTW as their Rep, although not the first time I had reviewed one of their shows.  Their intimate theatre is just right for small scale plays and I was really looking forward to this one which I knew of but had never seen.

We were the first to enter the auditorium which was very dimly lit with a rotating glitter ball overhead. Trying to read the programme in this situation was not a good experience. The open stage was also in darkness which I thought was a shame.  In my opinion a set, suitably lit, can appear very welcoming, giving the audience a heightened feeling of anticipation before the cast enters. 

The script is constructed from letters written by land girls during World War 2 to their loved ones back home, and from interviews with those willing to share their experiences. Many came from towns and cities and although for some it was a big adventure with a happy ending, for others it was a rude awakening as the relative comforts of urban dwelling gave way to the realities of life down on the farm.  All of their stories had been cleverly encapsulated into just four characters.

Jane Fielding, Jacquie Newman, Rachel Curren and Suzy White were Margie, Peggy, Poppy and Vera, four girls from different backgrounds whose job it was to help feed the country.  Each had developed their characters well and the play was well rehearsed and very well narrated. The interweaving of their stories took us through their wartime experiences, including learning to drive a tractor and plough a field (with and without glasses!), discovering where milk comes from, delivering calves, meeting a future husband and going to dances with American servicemen who, as we would say today, splashed the cash. They also told of the many downsides, included long working hours for little pay, the lack of flushing toilets and the unwanted advances of farmers, to name but a few. Interspersed with their storytelling the girls sang songs from the era, unaccompanied, and produced some lovely harmonies.

There were several smaller parts integral to the stories being told and these were well played by Iain Holding Sutton and Fern McClean, both having several costume changes as befitted their characters.

The land girls costumes looked authentic. The single set was simple but perfectly adequate with farm implements of the period depicting the girls working conditions.  Lighting was good and sound effects, including the voice of Winston Churchill were excellent and well thought out.

This was a well directed and very enjoyable production which deserved a larger audience. It was though well received by those who did attend.

Thank you for inviting me and for your hospitality.

Author: Decia Ranger, 6th July 2019

THEATRE LIFE REVIEW: Lilies on the Land

Guest Reviewer: Michelle Jacobs
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.