It is a great honour for any composer to have their work cherry-picked by fans and turned into a revue. Sondheim’s had five so far. Problems arise when songs lose their context and are shoe-horned into places they don’t really belong.
In other musical theatre song-cycles, such as Songs For A New World or Side By Side By Sondheim, we are presented with a series of numbers which are largely self-contained in terms of plot. Love and War gives us a narrative-based frame for Goodall’s songs, which means we can’t help but engage with the piece as if it were a formally structured musical. In this case it comes up lacking, because the ‘collage’ of song choices leads to characters being dressed for the 40s, but singing 90s power-ballads (‘Everything We Know’ from Love Story) and making reference to Janis Joplin. I’d buy it if it had a more timeless setting or was presented as a concert performance, but it seemed like a period production that couldn’t maintain its historical accuracy.
That said - some of the songs themselves stood out as examples of Goodall’s talent. ‘Pasta’, a patter-song documenting the diet of struggling twenty-somethings, and ‘We Dance On’, a darker number about the grim determination to dance through the Blitz, generated momentum that kept our attention truly fixed. Michael Stacey brought the house down with ‘Nocturnes’, a funny and touching song about passing on our cultural identity through the music we play to children. Harmonies from the four-strong were generally solid and their voices blended well, but when the tuning was missed, it was missed spectacularly.
The beautiful set by Sarah Booth consisted of an impressionistic blur which served as a seascape, the sky over the trenches, and the swirls of history: a literal collage to emphasise the show’s directorial approach. Goodall’s music would have been good enough to sustain over two short acts, but the narrative was a distraction imposed by the directors which actually took away from the power of the subject-matter.