Not Such Quiet Girls…

This is just a brief note to say how much I enjoyed Not Such Quiet Girls… presented by Opera North in the Howard Assembly rooms in Leeds last week.

The main storyline is about a lesbian relationship that flowers in France but collapses with the end of the war. (Hall is perhaps the main influence here. It’s worth remembering that neither she nor Price served in the war, but made myths about it later. This play is a refashioning of their myths to deal with twenty-first century concerns.)  

 The script, by Jessie Buckley, takes inspiration, and sometimes lines and episodes from Evadne Price (alias Helen Zenna Smith) Radclyffe Hall and others to make a play about women ambulance drivers on the Western Front.

The story is fairly slight, but made enjoyable by two things. First, the acting is good. Second, and most important, the music is marvellous.

The all-female cast comes from the chorus of Opera North; this chorus has previously created two shows that I enjoyed immensely – two years ago a production of Sondheim’s Into the Woods, set in a primary school,and earlier this year an evening of Kurt Weill’s Berlin andBroadway songs. Both those shows were first-rate, and this one was not too far behind.

 In Not Such Quiet Girls, the action was interleaved with songs of the period, some of them art songs, others from the music hall. My favourite was the Marie Lloyd number ‘Now You’ve got your Khaki on’, delivered with all the approprite suggestiveness.

Once or twice, he took me to a moving picture show
He’d ‘old me ‘and and all that kind of stuff
And I don’t mind saying this
I used to let ‘im have a kiss
Until I said, ‘Now chuck it, that’s enough.’
Then up he rolls in Khaki – I says, ‘Lovely, ain’t you grown
You’ve altered, but you’ve altered for the best
Once or twice I thought you meant to grow a Derby Kell
But they’ve took it off, and stuff’d it in yer chest.

 Chorus:Now, I do feel so proud of you, I do honour bright
I’m going to give you an extra cuddle tonight
I didn’t like yer much before yer join’d the army, John
But I do like yer, cocky, now you’ve got yer Khaki on.

 An interesting thing this show was that it used the Great War not for a pacifist message (though it left no doubt that the war was bloody awful),  but as a background for a personal story, for which the war was a catalyst, but not a cause. I think this is what is happening to Great War fictions these days, as the the futility-of-war theme that dominated before the centenary becomes to look a little obvious, and as the war recedes further into history.

Opera North is also presenting Silent Night, though, an opera about the Christmas Truce. I didn’t fancy that, though on the showing of this piece, they’ll probably do it well.

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