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Yank! review at Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester – ‘real sincerity’

The cast of Yank! at Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester. Photo: Anthony Robling
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Manchester’s fast-rising Hope Mill Theatre has been open for a little over a year but has already lined up a transfer for its revival of Hair. Now the theatre offers something even more ambitious: the UK premiere of 2010 Off-Broadway musical, Yank!

Written by brothers Joseph and David Zellnik, it’s a Second World War love story with a fierce, almost subversive difference. It looks at the blossoming of a gay romance between two soldiers and its derailing, partly by internalised homophobia – as one of the parties gets married to a woman to escape the stigma – and partly by institutionalised homophobia, as the army itself seeks to name, shame, imprison and dishonourably discharge transgressors.

The Zellniks tell this story by conscripting the form, structure and – especially – sound of a 1940s musical in the Rodgers and Hammerstein mould. This could be South Pacific, but instead of Nellie Forbush and Emile de Becque’s compromised romance, here we have Mitch (a dashing, matinee idol handsome Barnaby Hughes) and Stu (the sensitive Scott Hunter), fighting for their love as well as their lives.

As directed by James Baker and choreographed by Chris Cuming, a potentially hackneyed story is earthed with real sincerity and powered by a strong ensemble who bring a robustly masculine grace to it, neatly offset by the sole female cast member, versatile cabaret star Sarah-Louise Young, as a variety of movie fantasy figures.

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Ambitious and sincere 1940s-style musical with a difference