Charles Essex reviews Yank! at the Talisman Theatre, Kenilworth
The army in the Second World War was the first time many gay young people – both men and women – often from small towns across the USA had the chance to meet others and realise they were not alone and explore their sexuality.
Ironically this was under the auspices of the army which regarded it as degenerate behaviour. Stu (Aaron Gibson) is initially unsure that he is gay but fully embraces it as the war progresses, while his army buddy Mitch (Ash Spall) is confused about his sexuality.
This frank depiction of first love, gay love and fear – fear of being discovered mirroring the fear of facing death on the front line – is told as a musical through 22 songs with live accompaniment. The interaction between Stu, Mitch and Artie, the more experienced gay army photographer (Kevin Wing) highlights the struggles of forbidden love, and paying the price in different ways when discovered.
This was a terrific performance from a very strong cast. The set of backboards and a few packing cases, which could be moved quickly and easily, allowed the dance routines to flow uninterrupted. The tap dance duet between Artie and Stu was very accomplished. Aaron was not only word perfect in the lead role, with confidential revelations from his diary to the fourth wall, but he choreographed the production. His pitch and diction were excellent throughout. Joanne Cheung was superb as she played numerous female parts, including singing songs in different styles.
It is a tribute to the director Stephen Duckham to get the renowned Zellnik brothers to agree to Yank! being performed in a local theatre for the first time in the UK, which was a terrific coup for the Talisman. He assembled a talented cast and backing musicians who did justice to this work. This was a five-star performance.
* Yank! runs until Saturday July 13. Visit talismantheatre.co.uk to book.