The White Feather at the Union Theatre
Every now and then, there emerges a gem in fringe theatres offering what one may find in a West End production. The White Feather is a musical set during the First World War. It tells the story of Georgina, a girl whose young brother dies at war but fails to receive any of the accolades reserved for the deceased military. Harry’s misfortune and perceived offence is his inability to cope with the horrifying reality of battle. In hindsight, his condition is recognised as shell shock but, in the midst of conflict, it appears to his cynical superiors as mere cowardice. This twisted concept of “bravery” leads to new levels of brutality, and Harry ends up being executed by his own side.
When the pro-war propaganda reaches rural Suffolk, it makes every able man not just willing but eager to join the armed forces. The physical exertion does not deter them in the least, but most do not realise that “the terrors of the mind can be just as ghastly”. Sixteen-year-old Harry is so keen to fulfil what he perceives to be his duty that he lies about his age in order to enlist, but his excitement is soon extinguished. When news begins to reach Georgina and the other villagers, it is sporadic and inauspicious. A letter from Harry is heavily censored, leaving his sister with a very hazy account of his experience. Not only is Harry’s voice muffled, but his personality begins to fade too, in favour of a blank, nervous shadow of his former self.
The first injured soldier to return home confirms suspicions that there is more horror than glory on the battlefield. He speaks out against those in power, whom he believes to have knowingly sent the soldiers “to hell”. A twist in the story surfaces as Georgina is informed of the circumstances of Harry’s death. She thenceforth dedicates her life to defending her brother’s reputation and challenging a ruthless system that allows no room for human fragility.
The White Feather takes the audience on an emotional journey and is accompanied by a touching score. The three-piece band makes a powerful impact, making the music an integral part of the narration, as if the instruments were additional voices in the storytelling. The cast is vocally strong and the simple set somehow succeeds in representing both an idyllic village as well as the stark trenches. The emotive tone of the songs is perhaps the most successful feature of the play, making it a great addition to the musical theatre scene.
The White Feather is on at the Union Theatre from 16th September until 17th October 2015, for further information or to book visit here.