Friday, 11 August 2017

Yank!

An impressive London debut for this off-Broadway hit about being gay, in the closet and in the army in the 1940s

Written by Richard Barber


Love between members of the armed forces has always been something of a minefield. Even today, love between same-sex personnel merely adds to the fevered mix, but during the Second World War it was downright illegal. In America, homosexual soldiers, if identified, were sentenced to three years’ hard labour.

So Yank! (music by Joseph Zellnik, book and lyrics by brother David), imported from off-Broadway, where it first opened in 2010, shines a welcome light into a dark chapter of American military and social history. Richard-Barber-colour-176

Stu is a rookie soldier, just 18 and never been kissed. It quickly becomes pretty clear to him (and us) that it’s going to be a man who plants the first smacker on his unsullied lips. Indeed, his fellow squaddies take little time in dubbing him ‘light in his loafers’, as they put it. They range from the openly hostile Tennessee (Lee Dillon-Stuart) to the altogether more simpatico but avowedly red-blooded Mitch.

Or is he? Mitch has a girl back home but he’s a conflicted man, battling the tug of his sexual desires beneath his heterosexual exterior. When Stu gets posted to work on the Forces magazine, Yank!, Mitch takes to the bottle. Eventually reunited, they dream of setting up home post-war as they sing of being just ‘a couple of regular guys’. Except that America in 1945 would tolerate no such thing, so this is a story destined for an unhappy ending.

There’s much to commend Yank! but it’s a work in progress. The book needs tightening, for instance, and the audience doesn’t need to be hit over the head quite so relentlessly with the fairly obvious issues involved here.

On the plus side, there is Andy Coxon’s really impressive turn as Mitch. From his opening number, Rememb’ring You, you’re in the hands of someone who looks the part, who sings effortlessly and who has the acting chops to convey his character’s inner turmoil. I also liked Chris Kiely’s unambiguously theatrical photographer, Artie, and he’s a mean tap dancer, too. Hats off also to Sarah-Louise Young, who plays all the female characters, from a smoky-voiced chanteuse to an anxious mum to a lesbian army officer.

Scott Hunter has the greatest challenge as Stu. There’s a thin line between vulnerability and being a bit of a drip and there are occasions when he crosses over to the other side. But he, like the production, tackles a sensitive subject with some aplomb. I’ve no doubt we’ll be seeing more of this niche musical.

Until August 19 at the Charing Cross Theatre, London WC2: 020-7930 5868, www.charingcross theatre.co.uk 


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