Skip to main content

Yank! Charing Cross Theatre





I love a bells and whistles musical as much as the next person. But the true magic of musical theatre is in the musical storytelling magic that sometimes if we're really lucky, happens. As much as gold tap shoes and magic sets and a chorus of 20 is great fun, nothing beats the magic when words and music combine to tell a story from the heart.

Yank! is one of those rarities. With a cast of 12, a band of 7 and a set that mainly consists of wooden crates, they create a world and tell a powerful story. Storytelling, and the importance of telling your stories is at the heart of Yank! and the power of what is told and what isn't is central to the piece. Drawn from oral histories, the real lives of military men in America it was first staged in 2010 at the height of debate over the repeal of 'Don't ask don't tell'. Looking back to World War II and the time when homosexuality was punishable by 3 years in Military prison, 7 in civilian prison or being sent to the worst of the front lines, it's a story of both progress and how far is left to go. The central love story of Stu and Mitch not only takes on the prejudice of the military, fellow soldiers and their families, but also, their own internalised homophobia. And while on one hand there is an incredible hopefulness to Stu, emerging from all he goes through with the hope of living a life true to himself, there's Mitch who cannot come to terms with his own sexuality.



Scott Hunter and Andy Coxon are both charming and heartbreaking as Stu and Mitch, the soldiers thrown together by basic training who fall in love, trying to come to terms with their own feelings while hiding from the army. Confused about his lack of feelings for women, Stu is also mercilessly teased for not fitting in with his Platoon, and scared of becoming like the men from the typing pool he encounters. After a kiss with Mitch, and finding himself rejected- a result of Mitch's own internalised prejudice- Stu is taken on by Yank! magazine Photographer Artie (Chris Kiely), a man comfortable in his skin-and sexuality. Artie takes Stu under his wing, teaching him the ways of his world in 'Click' in what is the most unexpected and wonderful use of a tap routine to talk about sexuality.


As the war unfolds, the demands on the Platoon grows, and the bonds made in basic training come into play. The musical makes a subtle commentary on the dynamics of how far tolerance takes individuals and how far our own prejudices take us. While Stu is loyal to Mitch to a fault- returning to him when he needs help, choosing to stay at the front rather than escape, and ultimately never revealing his name when interrogated, others don't find that same strength of belief. The seemingly carefree Artie, breaks under pressure to save himself and takes Stu with him, while ultimately the pressures of society break the dreams of a house and picket fence for Mitch, who chooses to marry his fiance back home rather than risk a life with Stu. However Stu, enduring interrogation and a return to the front at Iwo Jima, takes a dishonourable discharge and is left to live a life...



It is a piece made by the stellar cast. And while the gentlemen of the company are exceptional, first mention should really go to Sarah-Louise Young who embodies every girlfriend/wife/mother and film star in the boy's heads. Holding her own (and standing out) amid the crowd of men, she cuts through and gives heartbreaking and heartwarming renditions of period sounding music. Meanwhile as Louise, a reminder that gay women also existed in the army, she is a force to be reckoned with and a linchpin of this company. Meanwhile Chris Kiely's nuanced performance as Artie, which starts as a charming tap-dancing flirtation covers an emotional arc of attachment and protection for Mitch, and a veering into a forced self-preservation and the darker side of men who did not 'pass'. For every beautifully executed tap-step he gives a contentious performance of a man trying to survive in a world that does not want him.



The rest of the Platoon and company are all of impeccable standard- from the comedic timing particularly from Kris March-Josesph and Benjamin Cupit, to the charm of Bradley Judge. There is a real sense of community and 'family' to the group. Meanwhile both the singing and execution of some incredible choreography (courtesy of Chris Cuming) makes this a true 'company' in every sense. It is a beautiful, and deceptively simple execution of this beautiful score by David and Joseph Zellnick and James Baker directs it with intelligence and compassion.

Yank! is an emotive piece of theatre that leaves us with both unanswered questions and questions to ask of ourselves and our own society. We may look at the ending in 1945 and praise ourselves in how far we've come, but we don't have to look very far to see these prejudices still exist both outside and inside ourselves. Don't Ask Don't Tell may be a thing of the past, but the inherent prejudice and fear LGBT people face is not.

However Yank! is a piece full of hope- we can hope like our narrator does for Stu at the end, that he went off and lived a life of love and happiness. That he learnt to accept himself, and to be who he truly was gives us the impression, and the hope that he did. And while the fight continues for equality in the broader sense, the message Yank! gives, particularly to young gay people (and indeed older ones) is that if you can love yourself, accept yourself, and that you should, then that's the first step. And that is a powerful, hopeful thing.

Yank! is at the Charing Cross Theatre until 19th August

http://charingcrosstheatre.co.uk/

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Theatre Fangirls (here we go again)

There's some arguments that come around and you think 'really? we're still talking about this?' but also you're not really surprised.

So when it was annoucned Tom Hiddleston was teaming up with Kenneth Brannagh for a production of Hamlet, it was inevitable that the cries of  'Silly fangirls' began. Once again we're confronted with comments that girls 'Only want to see it because he's in it' and 'Aren't interested in the play'.

And because I am a woman, therefore incapable of thinking of him other than in terms of his looks....here he above with a cat looking cute.

But just like Mr H there is both petting a cat, reading a newspaper and looking brooding, I'd like to point out that it's entierly possible to be interested in more than one aspect of a thing at the same time. And secondly I say so what the audience is just there to look at his cheekbones?

I don't have a horse in this race. I think Hiddles is a damn good ac…

Why Elliott & Harper is the company I've been waiting for

I can never resist a good (bad) pun in a title. As the first production from Elliott & Harper opens its doors for previews tonight, it’s worth pausing to think what this new production company means and why indeed we need more like it. Something of a ‘power house’ company formed of Marianne Elliott and Chris Harper. Both coming from the National Theatre- as Director and Producer respectively- there’s a real understanding of both the craft of theatre and the audiences that do- and don’t- come to it there. And theatre made by and produced by theatre people, in the commercial realm. That’s potentially very exciting.








Firstly, the act of two theatre people who really love theatre, really understand theatre both from an audience point of view and an artistic point of view. Secondly, one of the UK’s best directors striking out on her own to make theatre on her own terms. Thirdly, and you bet it’s an important factor, a woman artistic director. It’s all exciting, and has the potential, …

Angels at the National (a reflection before the review)

I had to do a Kushner and give this post a long subtitle.

When I called my PhD thesis "Angels at the National" (I write terrible titles I know) I never thought I'd be able to say it again. Of course, the Gods like to have a laugh at my expense so mere months after I bound the copy, Rufus Norris and Marianne Elliot got together and decided that I clearly hadn't had enough to write about. 


But how does it feel to have the thing that has lived in your head for so long, back, brought to life in front of you? As much as I love the plays, I'm also conditioned to be hyper critical. I know every line (I amazed/freaked out Elliot herself with my ability to know exact quotations on demand). And of course, I have my own expectations about how it should be. How then would it feel to go back? 



At the end of Part 1 I found myself leaning on the railings by the Thames, trying to compose myself and my thoughts enough to move. At the end of Part 2, I'm sure I had forgotten how …