“Your eyes will tell me all I want to know
When you come home once more”
Christmas 1944 in an end-of-the-pier theatre in Clacton-on-Sea – Sincerely Yours sees a troupe of entertainers put on a show for the latest conscripts about to ship off to the front and looks at their lives both on and off the stage as Britain enters another year of war and they themselves go overseas to join the war effort. Part of the LAMBCO Fringe Festival at the Landor, it’s a sweetly-played nostalgic tribute to those who endured through wartime, and to those who did not.
The show is at its strongest in the production numbers, which are really rather impressive. Robbie O’Reilly’s choreography works well in the limitations of this space to still give a full tap routine with ‘Pack Up Your Troubles’ and keeps its tongue firmly in cheek when Carmen Miranda gets involved. Jennifer Sims, Sarah Goggin and Sarah Day are fabulous as an Andrews Sister-esque vocal trio, ‘Don’t Sit Under The Apple Tree’ and ‘Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy’, two highlights among many.
Real poignancy comes too in the more reflective moments, the emotional clarity of Michael Webborn’s musical direction speaking volumes in a festive medley of ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’ and ‘White Christmas’. And his arrangements also find something new in such stalwarts as ‘We’ll Meet Again’ and ‘White Cliffs of Dover’, the female harmonies exquisitely done and as the beautiful Novello track ‘We’ll Gather Lilacs’ is added into the mix, only the hardest of hearts could remain unmelted.
By comparison, the book isn’t quite as strong, the shadow of Peter Nichols’ Privates on Parade looms large and Sincerely Yours’ chummy, feel-good spirit errs too close to contemporary attitudes than is perhaps strictly authentic, whether in the reaction to an unmarried woman’s pregnancy or the determination to live an openly homosexual life. Society was certainly changing due to the momentous upheaval of a second world war but it wasn’t moving quite that quickly.
In the end though, it doesn’t really matter as the performances are full of such warmth – the romantic connection between Carlton Venn’s youthful idealist Michael and Callum Tempest’s war-wearied Robert is delicate and dreamy. And the palpable camaraderie among the company, both onstage and off, means you happily buy into their melodramas until the next classic song arrives. Another musical success for Robert McWhir and his Landor Theatre.