Review: Brummagem Pals @ Lichfield Garrick

I’m always looking for something new to review, a policy that’s stood me in good stead over the years – you never know what new treat you’re going to see. And this one proves me right – a new play with music from the pens of two Midlands legends that blows everything new I’ve seen this year so far out of the water.

It’s a simple enough idea – two Brummie lads from Sparkbrook, mates, impulsively join up at the start of the Great War. Their families are horrified, but the boys have their hearts set on enlisting, and want to “win a medal” to make them all proud.

So with the aid of some bostin’ tunes and haunting songs, some great ensemble playing and simple but marvellously inventive stagecraft, we see them taking their leave, going overseas, learning about life, and getting their first taste of war. They’re clever lads, and soon Danny and Jacky are expert gunners, instructing others in the art.

But their simple and unquestioning loyalty and wish to serve their country are hard pressed by the sheer horrors of war. Mix together the incompetence of generals, the disgusting effects of chemical warfare, the sheer squalor of trench warfare and you have a human tragedy on a monumental scale, which thanks to some marvellous ensemble playing is here given a deeply moving human face.

In an impressive cast mention must be made of Don Maclean the engaging narrator, Nate Ryan and Adam Fray as Danny and Jacky the two pals who take the king’s shilling, and Malcolm Stent as a proud but anxious father.

This brilliant new production is a wonderful tribute not only to the men who fought and died but a moving celebration of the fortitude of those who came back from the most disastrous conflict in human history.

There’s laughter aplenty, but I’m not ashamed to admit to shedding tears in the second half. This show deserves a much wider airing.

Lest we forget.

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