Review: ‘Stirring and affecting’ ★★★★ Yank! Charing Cross Theatre

The bravery of our military personnel will never fail to astound me, with the sacrifices made by so many during the two World Wars in an attempt to ensure the rest of us can live in freedom, something we will be eternally grateful for, writes Nicky Sweetland.

But there has always been echelons of society who have remained repressed and the bravery of the gay community is highlighted beautifully in James Baker’s production of the musical Yank!, which ran at the Hope Mill Theatre in Manchester prior to receiving a London transfer.

It tells a touching tale of forbidden love between two soldiers in World War II, a time when homosexuality was illegal.

We aren’t new to heartbreaking stories of prohibited love, but this is no Romeo and Juliet, with the untold story of gay military personnel (which is virtually untold) providing a stark reminder just how far gay rights have come over the last 50 years, but how much further as a society we still need to go.

In fact, in this country, despite the decriminalisation of homosexuality over 50 years ago, gay military personnel and merchant seamen could actually still be jailed until 1994.

It’s a somber subject matter, but David Zellnik’s gentle rendering of the story, in making it feel like a classic musical of yesteryear, means we are treated to a touching tale, whilst being left in no doubt about the seriousness of the themes.

And with Joseph Zellnik writing some glorious sweeping melodies for his brother’s lyrics to nestle in, musically it’s a real pleasure.

There are also some really poignant performances from both Scott Hunter and Andy Coxon, supported by an excellent ensemble – which includes the magnificent Sarah-Louise Young expertly portraying all of the female roles – making this is a show, which exudes charm.

It’s just the technical side, which lets it down a bit. The set is ropey – with flimsy flats framing the stage – and some of the lighting cues need to be tightened up to ensure the actors can get on with the job of telling the story without suddenly finding themselves in shadow.

That’s one of the joys of live theatre however, and with a show as exquisite as this, it’s really a minor misdemeanor.

This is a stirring and affecting musical, which is performed beautifully and is a real recommendation.

Yank! is at the Charing Cross Theatre until 19 August

Photo by Clair Bilyard

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