Charing Cross Theatre, London – until 19 August 2017
Transferring from Manchester’s Hope Mill Theatre, which originally presented in New York in 2005; during Pride week and opposite iconic nightclub Heaven? Joseph and David Zellnik certainly know their audience. What sets Yank! apart is that this is more than a campy boy meets boy tale amongst the khakis and star and stripes but a no holds barred look at LGBT history, it even includes a bit of L.
Our Protagonist is Scott Hunter’s Stu, a boy of 18 he is thrown into conscription during
the Second World War and is simply not ready. He is effeminate, useless with a rifle and completely out of his depth. Whilst his colleagues yearn for girls back home the only woman in his life is his mum. No wonder he is drawn to Andy Coxon Mitch; kind, masculine and gorgeous. The audience falls for his Hollywood looks on first sight as Mitch appears, dreamlike, singing Rememb’ring You and looking every bit the matinee idol through Aaron J Dootson’s stunning lighting and Victoria Hinton’s sparse, yet versatile set. I also appreciated the tinnitus-esque pitches during any war scenes from Chris Bogg’s sound design. Anyone who has watched Archer will appreciate the attention to detail.
The Yank! in this production means many things, from the magazine Stu, finds himself writing for when fellow homosexual and mag photographer Artie notices and feels the need not only to protect but also showing him the ropes (to yank, so to speak) to the relationship these men have with each other as Americans.
I felt I warmed more to Stu’s relationship with Chris Kielty’s Artie. Artie’s numbers ‘Click’ and ‘Light on Your Feet’ (a fun tale about blending in, Assassins Creed-style, so seniors didn’t notice your behaviour) are about having a good time and where Chris Cuming’s choreography really shines, whereas straight acting Mitch felt like all the cliches of a man wrestling with his sexuality. It became clear that the cliches are cliches for a reason. Mitch promises the world but in a society that (still) punishes homosexuality you know it will never come to pass. Hunter’s Stu journey from boy to man is a stunning bit of theatre, his scenes where he is not only protecting himself but his squad are a deeply moving look at the relationship men form in desperate times. The characterisation of the Squad, including Lee Dillon-Stuart as the homophobic and stupid Southerner, Tennessee is very strong and it manages to successfully shape minor characters without seeming too long.
Supported by an excellent ensemble with particular praise for Waylon Jacobs, Mark Paterson and Scott Davies as the Gone with the Wind inspired Steno ‘girls’, who bring fear and recognition into Stu’s life the real star is the understated support from Sarah-Louise Young. Her scenes could feel similar to Miss Nightingale, which touched on similar themes, but as fabulous as her singing is in tunes as My Soldier and Blue Twilight where she really shines is in her role as Louise, a Lesbian who reminds her male counterparts what they have to lose if they are found out. Not their careers, but their opportunity to make a change, still an important message as we celebrate 50 years since the decriminalisation of male homosexuality but continue to fight against intolerance. For many men and women, the battle to just be themselves is still being fought and is much longer than any war.