Review: Poppies at Space Arts Centre

For their new production of their Edinburgh 2015 musical "Poppies", Music Box Productions transform the intimate Space Arts Centre - a former church turned cafe/bar/performance space - into a World War I army base.

Poppies tells the story of three women who travel to the front line to perform for the British troops.

At a London hospital in 1914, May, a local theatre producer, meets hospital patient Eliza. One is successful, high class and driven - the other is rough around the edges, creative and guarded. The two form an unlikely friendship and creative partnership when May notices that Eliza carries with her a closely guarded note book - and steals a page to get a closer look.

May soon discovers that Eliza is a talented poet, and persuades her to join her on the front line. Accompanied by May's sister Ada, the women travel to France.

May is beautifully played by Arabella Gibbins. Perfect for the intimacy of the performance space, her characterisation is natural, understated and engaging. Her performance of "I Feel You" near the end of act two has several members of the audience in tears.

Emily Owens is wonderful as Eliza. Her performance conveys a balance of warmth, tenderness, strength and vulnerability.

As the show unfolds, they steadily win over the troops, who take some convincing that the act is worth a shot - and pick up several friends and would-be performers along the way.

The act one finale, "His Majesty's Men", is stunning. A beautiful song, using atmospheric lighting and clever choreography to depict the soldiers heading over the top.

The songs have nice harmonies, and are performed beautifully by a hugely talented cast of actor-musicians. "The Summer of 1914" is lovely folk style song; vaguely reminiscent of the old songs your grandparents used to sing when you were little. "Working Women" at the start of act two is a particularly catchy number - when the women describe how they've stepped up to the plate to keep the country going while the men are at war.

However, the selection of musical styles makes the show feel somewhat disjointed, as the character and narrative doesn't flow between the songs.

A few events and characters, such as Ada and the prisoner of war, are pivotal yet sudden - so could be explored more.

Overall, the production is enjoyable - cleverly staged with excellent performances.

See "Poppies" at Space Arts Centre until 28 May.

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