Created by the team behind Birdsong, with an original score by composer Matthew Brind, new musical Only the Brave combines many of the same elements – patriotism, a tragic narrative and stylish visuals – but moves the historical setting forward to the Second World War.
Steve Marmion’s production interweaves the events of D-Day and tales from a platoon in training with those of the women keeping the home fires burning, the narrative shuttling between London and Paris before plunging the audience into a fog of explosions.
The skeletal metallic forms of Michael Vale’s utilitarian set are silhouetted against an amorphous backdrop of striking video projections by Dick Straker. Flashes of lipstick red among khaki uniforms underscore the link to the Faulks’ adaptation.
Although the domestic narrative provides additional investment in the characters, the strongest numbers are the male ensemble pieces. The inclusion of military drums and an almost rap-like quality to a boxing match sequence make these scenes particularly powerful and memorable. The buoyant camaraderie and rough physicality of the choreography (Alistair David) brings a stomping masculinity to the stage.
There’s a stand-out vocal performance from Emilie Fleming, whose naturalistic elision from talking to singing is particularly striking. Her voice soars, it fills the Donald Gordon Theatre. Yet despite the accomplished performances of Fleming and the rest of the cast, there is a lack of distinction between much of Brind’s music, the second half concertinas into itself and although reminiscent in many ways of Birdsong, it doesn’t quite fly.