Poppies – Edinburgh Festival Fringe

2015POPPIES_AMPPoppies continues at The Space Triplex until 29 August.

Star rating: three stars ★ ★ ★ ✩ ✩

This piece is beautiful – mainly for the music. There are several really strong songs and all are performed very, very well.

Beginning in the summer of 1914, three girls and three boys rehearse for playing at their local fete. The opening song is upbeat with a nice, folk feel to it and their voices harmonise pleasantly. The group of six falls into three pairs: a brother and sister; a romantic couple and a platonic couple that seem to want to become more than friends. But this is 1914 and the world is about to change. Forever.

All three young men join up – Leonard (played by Christopher Davidson) is seen as a bit of a jester in the group and only just makes it into the army on the grounds of his height. He and his sweet girlfriend, Ada (Katie Lambert) sing a poignant duet – in the vein of keeping on smiling.

The tone changes when we see the three girls together, working the land as part of the war effort. The music is strikingly different: more modern with a stronger rhythm that matches lyrics telling of their hard work and how they are earning less money than the men. In a scene where all three are drinking a pint after their hard day, Elsie (Leah Pinney) announces she will join the Voluntary Aid Detachment and go to France to help in the war more directly; perhaps finding her brother.

Meantime, we see the boys at the front. William (Oliver Hamilton) has been appointed an officer and this seems to have caused tension in his relationship with the other two boys. Their trio about riding into battle is very powerful – marvellous harmonies and a strong sense of focus and purpose.

William’s relationship with Thomas (Samuel Morgan-Grahame) comes under more strain as Thomas sees him visit a house of ill repute and insists he should break off a blossoming relationship with May back at home. Leonard, meantime, volunteers for a mission that sees him injured. Both Elsie and his sweetheart Ada arrive as nurses in France.

May sings about her growing affection for William – writer Laura Kaye Thomson’s vocals have a purity of tone and a remarkable length of phrase in her moving ballad.

The staging is simple and pre-set with a number of instruments; an assortment of crates and baskets that are used to good effect. It would be helpful for the ushers to seat the audience in the front row around the thrust staging as a great deal of the action happens on the stage floor.

The plot is perhaps overly simple and would benefit from development to match the wonderful score. I do hope that this show is suitably nurtured – these songs are strong enough to deserve a better book to support them – the finale song is absolutely beautiful: catchy, memorable and not overly sentimental. A finely-balanced piece in musical terms that has the seed of something greater waiting to grow from it.

 Fiona Orr
Music Box Theatre

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