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BWW Review: SOMEWHERE IN ENGLAND, New Wimbledon Studio, 12 October 2016

Somewhere in England is a piece of 1940s wartime nostalgia with a big heart, brought to life in the cosy surroundings of New Wimbledon Studio this week.

The show is an escapist and pastoral view of an interesting part of history, when American GIs arrived in England to prepare for the invasion of Normandy. They brought with them nylons, Coca-Cola and bags of energy and fun. The appearance of the lively and girl-deprived young soldiers in the quiet village certainly has an effect on all the residents; some welcome, some less so. The show tells the story as the GIs settle into village life over the course of an eventful year: falling in love, creating a stir and making lifelong friendships.

Cast standouts include Hannah Ponting as the irrepressible Cockney Land Girl Eva, who in her refusal to settle for just one GI, has a cheeky mannerism reminiscent of a young Barbara Windsor. All the GIs have nicely distinct personalities, with Ryan Ferrie's sweetly earnest PVT Joe Voronsky and Fed Zanni's authoritative Sergeant Meyer being particularly effective.

Derek Elwood is very amusing as the pantomime villain Mr Crowe, protesting against the presence of the 'Yanks' with a startling array of outraged facial expressions. Tony Barber, who played the same part in the original 1987 production, is as typical a middle-England country vicar as it's possible to be: warm, enthusiastic to bring both sides together, but gently moral about just how close they should get.

If there was ever a rose-tinted view of World War II, this is it. There is very little, if any, mention of strategy, battle or death. The biggest problem appears to be which GI to go out with and a lack of ham for the village dance, which is quickly remedied by the generous Americans. It is very much the type of show that Lynda Snell would put on in Ambridge's village hall in a particularly bucolic episode of The Archers.

Director and Producer Sheila Daniels, who also acted in the show's debut in 1987, has produced a show that is sweet, gentle and unchallenging. One weakness is the comportment of the GIs. They all dance very well, but there is little sharpness to suggest military training in the way they march and salute.

Musically, the show is very easy to listen to. The four-piece band is strong and the majority of the cast very able, but as a musical it's less successful. Gordon Caleb's 1940s swing standards are toe-tappingly charming as they're being played, but many songs blend into each other and lack memorability. The lyrics to some of the numbers are also a little cloying, with "What Went Wrong", focusing on the changes war has brought, being particularly sickly.

The ensemble pieces are the strongest. The combination of "In The Country" and "(We Wanna Go Back) Home" showcases great vocals from most of the cast. A highlight is the Act 1 finale "The Forty Four" - a high-energy and catchy jitterbug. Harmonies are good and Madeline Eaton-Belton's choreography is particularly impressive, especially considering the limited space of the New Wimbledon Studio.

The company's production team includes a collaboration with some students from The Brit School in Croydon providing lighting, sound and stage management. Jed Brook's lighting is sometimes a little stark and the band occasionally threatens to drown out some of the weaker solo singers. Costumes are very authentic and the band being dressed as GIs at the back of the stage is a nice touch.

Somewhere In England has no hidden depths, but is a sweet and nostalgic piece of theatre.

Somewhere in England is at New Wimbledon Studio until 15 October

Photo Credit: Judi Lamb

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