“It’ll be over by Christmas” – a new musical about the First World War
“It’ll be over by Christmas”, as we know, is the blackly humorous phrase that encapsulates all the miscalculations made about the First World War – and perhaps any war. The show takes us through the history and heroism, the absurdity and tragedy of that period in Western history that marks us even today.
The production was first conceived by Tracy Coleman with Paul Sand. Coleman is familiar to us as the singing and dancing blonde bombshell leading the eclectic band Plum Busby. Sand, a composer and arranger, has been writing music for performers for as long as you can remember.
With Gabriel Keen spectacularly on piano and an ingenious script written by the show’s finely tuned and attuned director Richard Martin, it turns out they’ve all made something that is more than the sum of its parts. Here’s an entertainment that gets the balance right.
Despite its serious subject matter, It’ll be over by Christmas is neither grim nor mawkish. This is down to Richard Martin’s script and Tracy Coleman’s sparkling performance both of which assume the spectators’ intelligence. So often in comedy or musicals, audience members are treated like idiots. Coleman has a saucy yet sussed stage presence that remains endearing without her needing to dumb down the gravitas of the content. Nor is there any trickery with sentimentality, though frequently there’d be someone in the audience dabbing an eye.
The set-up gives us the character Tilly Crumb, a Londoner from the East End, too feisty and glamorous to be a true-blue blue-stocking but borrowing something from that type. She is introduced to us by the Stepney town councillor, a.k.a. producer-musician Huw Thomas, before she gets behind the lectern to explain to us what actually happened in and around the First World War. This she does musically – with verve, wit, joy and sadness.
Perhaps half the songs are original compositions by Paul Sand but they have such an authentic ring of the period you’d be forgiven for supposing they were a hundred years old. The rest are so familiar that the audience, with Tilly Crumb’s encouragement, found it impossible not to join in with gusto, belting out golden oldies such as If It Wasn’t For The ‘Ouses In Between, Oh It’s A Lovely War, Has Anybody Here Seen Kelly, If You Were The Only Girl In The World, Keep The Home Fires Burning, Pack Up Your Troubles, Put Your Arms Around Me Honey, Everybody’s Doin’ It, For The Yanks With Their Tanks, and any number of others you didn’t know you knew.
Inhabiting all the roles appropriate to the singer of the songs, Tracy Coleman morphs from political firebrand to sunny music-hall hoofer to moving vocalist for Wilfred Owen’s Dulce et Decorum Est set to music by Paul Sand.
Without any overt suggestion that this is all a lesson in history and sociology, not to mention popular music, by the end of the show one has had a bit of a sing-song, topped up ones knowledge, jogged the memory, and, through the smiles, felt the tears well up more than once.
It’ll be over by Christmas premiered at The Melon House, London, in September 2014.
See promo video: http://youtu.be/MfSl1_1AQZA
Review by Patricia Morris, 2014. No copyright restriction.