I had been looking forward to Mark Piper’s new musical The Dreamers (St James Theatre) staged by Runner Bean Ltd, which comes in the year commemorating the centenary of the Battle of Gallipoli – an engagement in which almost a quarter of a million men perished – but unfortunately the show fell short of expectations.
Set during the First World War, the show, performed by a cast of 20 young men and women, tells the true but little-known story of Captain Daniel ‘Reggie’ Salomons, an officer in the Kent Fortress Royal Engineers who led ‘third company’ to the battlefields of the Dardenelles in 1915.
As Reggie prepares his men for battle, one soldier Jack Hastings grows jealous of his popularity and position and unsettled by the prospect of what lies ahead tries to stir trouble among the men. A 12-year-old boy is desperate to join the army, not wanting to be left out of the ‘great adventure’. While everyday women become nurses and factory workers as the troops embark for the front.
This tale of courage and sacrifice aims to look at the outbreak of the war through the eyes of the soldiers and the families they left behind and pays tribute to a generation whose dreams were swept away. But this is more of a theatrical concert than anything resembling a musical as there is no real narrative journey and no characters are developed with any clarity. As a piece of community theatre with the performers lined up in period costumes singing their roles, supported by on-screen narration from Amanda Redman and others, it is certainly a lively affair. But it tells us little we didn’t already know about the war and those caught up in it. Siegfried Sassoon is quoted in the programme saying “Soldiers are dreamers, when the guns are blazing they think of fire-lit homes, clean beds and wives” and I think more writings from the wartime poets might well have given the two-hour show the emotional depth it lacks.
However, a six piece contemporary band called ‘Virgin Soldiers’ give James Beeny and Gina Georgio’s rather haunting score a necessary dramatic charge that in some way compensates for the weak script.
Incidentally all proceeds from the sale of programmes will go to the Stars Foundation for Cerebral Palsy.
Runs at St James Theatre until Saturday 11 July 2015.
Box office: 0844 264 2140Last modified: April 7, 2021