Pros: Gripping clips of interviews with war correspondents stand out from other elements of the performance.
Cons: A cast with pitch issues and a rambling plot that gets lost in a stream of rhyming couplets.
Stratford Circus is, in many respects, the the new kid on the block, nestling in the shadow of the Theatre Royal Stratford East. Billed as an arts centre, it has a broad programme encompassing dance, theatre, music, comedy and literature. War Correspondents, presented by the Helen Chadwick Song Theatre, seeks to distil their thoughts through the medium of song. The plot concentrates on a journalist held at gun point, caught in no man’s land between two warring nations. A five strong cast perform musical numbers based on interviews with war journalists. Recordings of interviews are also interspersed providing a grim though compelling account of how truth seekers function and survive.
Aside from the interview clips, there is no spoken dialogue so the performance is sung through and therein lies the problem; there is no musical accompaniment and actors are therefore performing a capella for the entire 70-minute duration of the show. This is a tough order even for the most talented singers, and unfortunately the cast are not able to carry the show with their voices alone. The actors gestures during the songs are also very distracting; a cross between jazz hands and signing which is often superfluous and occasionally a bit bizarre. With all five actors trilling, I immediately thought of another a capella quintet from the 80s, The Flying Pickets. I just couldn’t shift this thought from my mind as they ploughed through a 29 track song sheet. For me, this stripped away any dramatic impact the show might have otherwise had. Unfortunately, lyrically, the songs just don’t hold together either. One song called Kit simply lists the items a war correspondent has to pack for a mission. Not particularly pleasing to the ear; and the same could be said of Get Out Alive, If I Die, Everything Stays Broken and A Bruising Of The Mind. I have no issue with being challenged in the theatre, but these songs were relentlessly depressing and did not necessarily make a great night out.
I do wonder whether this is the right way to deal with such an emotive issue. War correspondents regularly put their lives on the line and their story needs to be told in every available medium. But this doesn’t seem the best way of presenting the subject on stage. The interview clips were really the highlight of the show: they were funny, disturbing, heroic and genuinely dramatic but they weren’t used to full effect. I think it’s unfortunate that such compelling accounts were largely buried by songs that weren’t quite up to scratch.
Composer: Helen Chadwick
Co-Directors: Steven Hoggett and Helen Chadwick
Scenographer & Creative Associate: Miriam Nabarro
Producers: Penny Mays, Dramatic Solutions
Box Office: 0844 357 2625
Booking until: On tour until 25 October 2014