Cheeky, chirpy and informative, Lilies on the Land sketches the story of the Women’s Land Army during the second world war using hundreds of letters and special interviews conducted by the actors of the Lions part company and their director, Sonia Ritter.
The memories and anecdotes are arranged within the framing incident of Churchill’s death in 1965, rather oddly heralded with a jaunty, jerky Georgie Fame song on the radio.
The four female performers then discard their outer clothing and are revealed in their WLA apparel of beige breeches, green jumpers and boots: faces and arms tanned, hair flowing in the breeze, metaphorically wielding pitchforks.
This poster image of healthy outdoor Amazons digging for victory in the fields and farms of England is then systematically and entertainingly dismantled with tales of hardship, early morning milking duties, outdoor lavatories and unwanted attention from Italian soldiers and boorish farmhands.
But joy and camaraderie are expressed, too, in a series of dance tunes and outings, tobogganing in the snow, cycling down country lanes and meeting up with old friends. The only problem is that the stories and snippets come thick and fast without gelling into any kind of overall dramatic shape or thrust; and it’s sometimes difficult to distinguish one girl from another.
The idea is to give a sense of the changing seasons and climates, but then you lose track of who’s who again, and finally you just give up and absorb the flow of anecdotal information, the sometimes quaint but always touching quality of how the land girls themselves remember that time.
And there is much to enjoy in the quartet of performances by Dorothy Lawrence as Margie, a thin-as-a-rake, doll-like Geordie; Kali Peacock as Peggy, an outgoing Cockney with a hilarious account of ploughing a field in the wrong direction; Sarah Finch as posh Poppy from Oxfordshire, zesty and ever looking on the bright side; and Rosalind Cressy as the more thoughtful, withdrawn Vera.
The personalities of these girls draw them together, rather than the events of the war or the shared experience of working and survival; and there is a tumult of other characters flitting between the lines.
But as a piece of oral history and community celebration, it’s a valuable addition to the roster of heart-warming second world war shows such as Happy as a Sandbag, though the Lions part could rename theirs, perhaps, “Happy as a Sad Bag.”