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The Muddy Choir (Tour - Salisbury)

A play for young people that explores poignantly life in the trenches

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
The Muddy Choir cast playing at Salisbury Playhouse as part of a national tour.

With the 100th anniversary of WW1, 2014 has been laden with plays that address the futility of the war. Now though Jesse Briton has written a play for youngsters that focus instead on the individual lives of the men in the trenches.

Amongst the endless lines of trenches, three lads are heard singing the songs they grew up with. Thanks to their bursts of song, they attract a barrage of shells, resulting in the death of a comrade. They have two options. Face the firing squad, or assist the upcoming offensive on German lines by attracting the guns through song.

This is written for young audiences and for a WWI play, Briton's latest work is quite light-hearted. Instead of relaying facts about the impact of war on millions of lives, it focuses on the camaraderie found in a tiny corner of the Western front.

The three actors are the driving force of the play. Engaging and endearing, their pact to never kill, but sing is endearing. Stupidly fearless, Robbie (Ryan Penny) is the life and soul of the trio. He is full of boundless energy and humour, trying to forget his fear and frustration in the midst of never ending turmoil.

The show never shies away from the bleakness of No Man's Land. Each scene is bookended with music amidst the barrages of shelling and gunfire. The three step around the tiny set that presents the cramped conditions of the trenches, below a picture of the fractured trees and muddy ground of Passchendaele. It is only as the play progresses though that we see how the reality of war hangs of the three lads like a leaden pall.

As Lance-Corporal, Will (Lawrence Russell) takes up the responsibility of keeping his friends alive. Soon we learn how much the war has changed him as he mentally fights to survive. The most poignant performance though comes from Andrew Burrell as Jumbo, suffering from the torment of No Man's Land and on the verge of desertion. As the play progresses this close-knit friendship is brought to breaking point as the day of the offensive draws near.

A heart-warming but poignant play that sheds light on life in the trenches through story and song. With only a 1 hour running time, this compact piece does not outstay its welcome and is an ideal WWI play for youngsters