King & Country World War 1 Opera

The King and Country World War I Opera is a show presented in a rather strange format at the Brighton Fringe Festival. We were warned that the work is still under some sort of 'production' and that it is only 'semi-staged', yet the cast is a collection of trained professional singers. The result was a show which at points felt a bit underworked and at others strikingly professional. I have given this performance a four star rating because it would be a disservice to the singers themselves if anything less were awarded. They acted and sang impressively throughout the two hour piece.

The result was a show which at points felt a bit underworked and at others strikingly professional.

Musical director Andrew Morrison worked very well with what he had; a piano and a laptop, which he simultaneously controlled, were the only accompaniment to this piece. However, seeing as the stage was uncluttered and the theatre, Brighton's Unitarian Church, is relatively small, the piano had no trouble filling the location. The original music, written by Michael Brand, was influenced by both West End style musicals and more traditional pieces. The Last Post Bugle Call was evoked in sections and I felt it to be a poignant allusion.

The cast responded well to Morrison's direction. Caitlin Downie gave a striking vocal performance as Helen Rokeby and Gemma Morsley the most emotive acting as widow Margaret Idale. Each actor/singer worked well and gave faultless vocal performances. They were a cohesive cast, managing to construct a believable story with limited props, costumes and set, and at some points their combined vocal power was a force to be reckoned with.

Where my criticism for this performance must come, however, is in the writing, which seems uncertain of genre - it's unclear if this is an opera or a musical. There's a mix of spoken and sung dialogue, and the decisions as to when which technique is used are unclear. I believe some poignant lines that were sung could have been spoken to fully bring out their impact.

This is a show written to commemorate the First World War's centenary, and on this front it does not fail or do any disservice to this terrible event.

Reviews by Duncan Grindall

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The Blurb

What was it like for the young men who fought in 1914? Or for their families who stayed at home? What was it like when the men came back? Or didn't. 'King & Country' is an opera World Première - based on a 1923 play highlighting the effect of WW1 on local families. Professional full-length semi-staged production by local writing team Jane Bramwell (libretto) and Michael Brand (composer). Presented as 'in development'. Directed by David Kettle - West End and International credits.