War – in the sense of hand-to-hand conflict – is largely a masculine business. But both soldiers and civilians have to be fed, and that means that the land previously worked by farmhands now conscripted into the armed services must be tilled and its produce harvested. The Women’s Land Army fulfilled this need during the Second World War; during 1943 the work of its 90,000 members produced two out of every three meals eaten in Brtain.
Lilies on the Land, now touring nationally after a West End season, tells the story of four land girls. Interviews with surviving WLA members as well as letters, poems, photographs and other documentary evidence both official and unofficial are its source material. Sonia Ritter’s production presents four typical WLA members – one rather county, one from London’s East End and two from the precarious fringes of the middle class.
These four take us through the complete gamut of their experiences, from back-breaking labour and physical abuse to shared camaraderie and moments of sheer pleasure. The framing device is the death of Winston Churchill. They hear the news as they live their different post-war lives, once again so very contrasted in affluence and status, but come together at the statesman’s funeral. Radio broadcasts and news reports of the 1940s and 60s help to set the various scenes.
Jane Linz Roberts’ set is a simple arrangement if planks and boxes, allowing little distraction from what is being said and done. I would have liked crisper articulation from the cast – Jo Castlton, Sioned Jones, Dorothy Lawrence and Kali Peacock – and it is interesting that the breath-taking moments derive from the excellent a cappella singing far more than from the spoken dialogue.