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The Land of Might-Have-Been - Norwich Theatre (25.07.2023)

As much as I love an old classic musical, it's important to hear what a new generation of writers and composers can come up with. In the The Land of Might-Have-Been, which was a co-production by the Buxton International Festival and Norwich Theatre, they've managed to achieve the warm feel of an old classic, but with contemporary sensibilities.

This new musical, written by Michael Williams, is built around the songs of Ivor Novello, and tells the story of siblings Vera and Edward Brittain who each find love during the summer of 1914, only for their hopes and dreams to be shattered by warfare in Europe. The Land of Might-Have-Been, blending those Ivor Novello classics with additional compositions by composer Iain Farrington, charts the Brittains' lives as they navigate life and love before and during the first world war.

It all begins in very charming fashion, with a number of big, sumptuous ensemble song and dance routines (The Glo-Glo and Buxton Ragtime Band) giving a flavour of the Brittains' youthful, largely carefree existence up to that point. While Vera elicits frustration at the expectations of her as a woman at the time and wants a university education rather than a husband, her brother Edward has similar frustrations but doesn't want to go to university and would rather be in a relationship with his best friend, Bobby.

The tone of the show changes, understandably, with the announcement of war, giving the second half in particular a much more sombre, sobering feel. This also gives licence for some gorgeous sentimental ballads in Glamorous Night and My Life Belongs to You.

With its light operatic style, the vocals throughout alongside the wonderful musical score were simply stunning, with George Arvidson, Kit Esoruso, and Alexander Knox particularly impressing with their soaring voices and beautiful harmonies.

The story was engaging throughout, but splitting the time between two different love stories meant that some of it felt a bit hasty in its delivery, with the relationship between Vera and Roland not being afforded much in the way of a build-up. And without giving too much away about the story, it was pleasing that we weren't patronised with an all-singing, all-dancing happy ending.

For such a new production, it is remarkably polished and slick, with some wonderful set pieces giving us a real visual feast alongside the excellent period costumes. It's a thoroughly engaging piece of work, and one that made me want to learn more about the remarkable life of Vera Brittain. The Land of Might-Have-Been continues at Norwich Theatre Royal until 30th July.


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