Promise Adelaide. Goodwood Institute. 21 Dec 2017
The stage is dark, misty, dressed by stacks of sandbags and populated by young men, most of them barely out of school.
They stand dressed in a pastiche of World War I military uniforms representing all ranks and units and several countries.
They are crisp and neat and fresh. The British speak up, one by one. They have joined up for the best or sometimes the blithest of reasons and they are going off to war in the general belief that it won’t last long and they’ll be home for Christmas.
It is, as the program says, an optimistic departure.
Unaccompanied, the men sing Will Ye Go to Flanders, Good-Bye-ee, It’s a Long Way to Tipperary and, most impressively, God Save the King in the spirit of British patriotism.
But then, in a series of war songs sung a-capella, they find that war is about life in the trenches and the death of mates. The Germans are just over there, in the same predicament. Half the cast split off to don spiked helmets. Deutschlandlied is sung. Keep the Homefires burning is sung. I Want to Go Home is sung.
They don’t go home.
Christmas comes in God-forsaken Flanders fields.
And, that most famous interaction in the history of European warfare takes place, against the wishes of all military authority. The opposing soldiers reach out through song and then meet in no-man’s-land between the trenches and celebrate Christmas with spirts and gifts and football, and even the respectful burial of the dead.
All of this is depicted through traditional song and descriptions of the time spoken by assorted soldiers. They are snippets of remembrance well-picked by the show’s writer, Peter Rothstein. He has derived his content from memoirs, letters, journals, official documents and even gravestones. The message is clear and moving.
The production is emphatically choreographed by director Paul Reichstein, the men flowing about the stage to keep the show from looking too much like a concert.
But, essentially, it is a glee club concert tribute to that very special Christmas and one feels compelled to congratulate Ben Francis and the young Promise Adelaide company for perpetuating this significant piece of war history. They have done it with feeling and there are some beautiful voices on the stage.
As producer Trish Francis says in the program, they were very short of rehearsal time. It shows. Musical director Trevor Anderson could have bumped up the pace and harmonies and adjusted slightly some of the soloists.
Military history buffs in the opening night audience had a few bones to pick with costumes and staging; and particularly the depiction of individuals within the playing of The Last Post at the end.
And one must say that it is an awkward conceit to end the concert with a present-day grandfather’s narration to his grandson from his armchair by the Christmas tree.
The most important aspect of this Promise Adelaide production is, indeed, its intent.
There is a lot of commercial and religious overkill swirling about at Christmas. This wonderful vignette about the universality of man is the most significant message that can be conveyed.
Good spirit to them.
When: 21 to 23 Dec
Where: Goodwood Institute