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The White Feather review at the Union Theatre, London – ‘touching sincerity’

David Flynn and Adam Pettigrew in The White Feather at the Union Theatre, London. Photo: Scott Rylander
David Flynn and Adam Pettigrew in The White Feather at the Union Theatre, London. Photo: Scott Rylander
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The phenomenon of soldiers in the First World War suffering from shell shock has been extensively dramatised in plays and films from Journey's End to a stage version of Pat Barker's Regeneration trilogy premiered at Northampton’s Royal and Derngate last year. Now it is the subject of a gentle new British folk musical that's mostly tame, grey and earnest by turns.

Written and produced in a determinedly minor key, this is also one of its virtues – it has a reflective, touching sincerity as a sister (Abigail Matthews) seeks retrospective justice for her late brother Harry (Adam Pettigrew), summarily shot for desertion when he refused to leave the trenches and "go over". Her own marriage flounders when she discovers that her husband was her brother's commanding officer who gave the order for him to be shot but also harboured other desires for him.

The book – co-written by composer/lyricist Ross Clark and director Andrew Keates – is ploddingly episodic, with a dozen settings in the first act and 10 more in the second. But as director Keates keeps them running fluidly, and as composer Clark decorates it with some pleasingly plangent melodies, tenderly played by the rumbling piano of musical director Dustin Conrad and yearning strings of cello and violin.

As ever at the Union, some of London's brightest up-and-coming younger talents get the chance to shine, with Abigail Matthews and Adam Pettigrew as the siblings whose story drives the action.

Verdict
An atmospheric production and excellent playing compensates for a rather obvious plot
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