Bishopsgate Institute, London
The London Musical Theatre Orchestra is taking a short residency at the Bishopsgate Institute whilst they perform a concert version of Howard Goodall’s Girlfriends which follows a group of women as they join the Women’s Auxiliary Airforce during World War Two.
Complete with new orchestrations specifically for the LMTO, Girlfriends has some beautiful virtuosic moments which are wonderfully showcased by the orchestra, led by Freddie Tapner. As always, the orchestra gives a sleek performance. However, compared to previous concerts where the LMTO has had solo showcase moments playing musical interludes such as the police scene in Mack and Mabel, there weren’t any moments where we could purely appreciate the orchestra. These concerts always tend to provide a platform to appreciate stripped back music which of course we could still do, but this particular production lacked some of the “wow” orchestral moments previously experienced.
Whilst the orchestrations are lovely, a lot of the music feels similar and there are a lot of songs which are repetitive. Many of the melodies are catchy but when heard time and time again, become ineffective in conveying the mood/drama they intend to. I believe the whole piece would be much more moving emotionally and technically sleek if it was cut down and smoothed out. That’s not to say that there weren’t some outstanding moments, especially when the women join together for tight choral moments of chromatic harmony which effectively push the pain and confusion felt by everyone during the war.
The cast are the best of the best who work well as a team and individually. As best friends leaving their “ordinary” lives to join the WAAF, Lucie Jones and Lauren Samuels show off their divine vocals and natural chemistry with effortless talent. Natasha Barnes is vocally stunning, whilst Vikki Stone gives both a humorous and heartbreaking performance and Bronté Barbé gives a memorable performance of ‘The Chances Are’. Rob Houchen and Chris McGuigan both give strong performances which showcase their talents whilst perfectly framing the women, as they should in a show focused on female strength.
Despite the dramatic content, the show itself never reaches a boiling point and somewhat lacks intensity. During act one, I couldn’t help but think the show was romanticising war with the various love affairs that formed; however, a moment of text in act two changed that view and brought the stark reality of war back to the heart. Victoria Gosling MBE explains that she was born in a free world and grew up hearing “All You Need is Love” whilst for her grandparents, “All They Had is Love”. This reminds us the importance of relationships both romantic and non-romantic as well as how lucky we all are to be able to watch this show without having experienced the pain and turmoil that accompanied the women featured.
Despite this not being my favourite production form the LMTO, there is no denying that the wealth of talent on offer gave remarkable performances. The melodic, complex music does provide moments of power and if anything, this show serves as a fantastic celebration of women and the crucial roles they had in the Second World War.
photo credit: Nick Rutter