The White Feather at The Union Theatre, Souhwark, is a new British musical exploring historical events and issues that still remain relevant today. Set in WW1 in a small East Anglian village, the audience begin their relationship with siblings Georgina and Harry Briggs. What starts off as a relatively circumspect depiction and naïve interpretation of horrific events gradually develops into a heart-wrenching and powerfully raw production.
The musical begins with the single death of the Briggs’ father which is a minute event in comparison to the cloud of unjustified murders and innocent victims of war that explicitly hangs over the audience at the end of the show. The main bulk of the story explores the effects of war on 16 year old Harry Briggs. Mentally affected by his war experience he is incapable of fighting and shot for being a coward. As a result, his sister spends the rest of the show seeking justice for her innocent brother. The white feather is a significant piece of imagery that runs throughout the course of the production. It is used to represent cowardice, selfishness but also shows innocence and false accusations. At first, the audience feel sorry for gentleman Adam Davey who is singled out by the other villagers for not volunteering to go to war. But by the end of the performance Davey well and truly earns his white feather.
Although WW1 is an event that is far beyond the majority of the audience’s time, Ross Clark uses his script as a way to show how much (or little) society and attitudes has changed. Zac Hamilton’s character (Edward Brown) comments on gender inequality and finds it difficult to comprehend why only men are enlisted to fight. Still to this day, women are not allowed to serve on the front line. The structure of an army has inarguably changed since WW1 but Edward Brown’s comments remind the audience that this inequality is most definitely still a present issue. Homosexuality is also addressed. Edward Brown and Adam Davey have a homosexual relationship that they have to suppress. Ninety years later and same-sex marriage has only just been legalised.
What needs to be criticised most in any new musical production is the music itself. So often ‘new musicals’ are created that have either no original songs or a series of songs composed of simple lyrics and repetitive uninventive melodies. The White Feather, however, is a refreshing and truly new musical with songs that are beautiful, poetic and memorable. The cast were incredibly talented and gave the music the justice it deserves.
In this particular production, Lee Dillon-Stuart’s performance is worth mentioning. A bit of an under-dog, it might be easy to forget his character. But I believe his performance is worth remembering. Lee Dillon-Stuart played Harry’s slightly more mature friend, Peter Arthurs. Arthurs witnessed the events that lead to the death of his friend and Dillon-Stuart used these events to bring the emotion of the play to new heights. His song, ‘In No Man’s Land’ was particularly powerful. His performance was strong and utterly passionate. Abigail Matthews also stood out from the cast. Having seen her in a recent production of ‘Bye Bye Birdie’, she proved her diversity in this transformation from a fresh-faced, worry-free teenager to a more serious and emotionally challenging role.
The story was strong and dramatic, the cast were real and engaging, and the music was powerful.