War Notes [FringeTIX]
Lili La Scala @ Salon Perdu (The Garden’s Spiegeltent)
5:30pm, Sat 13 Feb 2010
A decent-sized crowd has turned up for War Notes and, given its premise of wartime tunes and the classic beauty that shimmers from the promo pictures of Lili La Scala, it’s an understandably older audience. Which, given the fact that I’m a year away from my own forties, is becoming increasingly difficult to say.
I had the good fortune of seeing Lili in Club Cascadeur last year, and mentally pencilled her in for further patronage – her voice was only exceeded by her appearance in terms of beauty. And tonight she appeared in a lovely short-sleeved black dress, a single string of pearls around her neck that are almost indistinguishable from her gorgeous milky skin, blemished only by matching tattoos below her elbows – and her bright red lips and nails.
Lili’s performance revolves around the recreation of the songs that were aimed to buoy the spirits of both soldiers and the loved ones they left behind. Opening with Keep the Home Fires Burning, progressing through When the Poppies Bloom Again to the sing-song oscillations of The Homecoming Waltz, this is very much an homage to Vera Lynn, Gracie Fields, and the composers of the era(s). Glenn Miller’s Moonlight Serenade also gets a glorious outing, the “affectionate racism” of George Formby Jr (Mr Wu’s is Now an Air Raid Warden) is a laugh, and the audience participation as we hung out the washing on the Siegfried Line was, while contrived, still an amusing break.
Covering both World Wars, the songs are also interspersed with pre-recorded readings of letters sent from (now deceased) soldiers on duty in Iraq and Afghanistan – an interesting comparison, with the letters dripping thick with sentiment and love. The final letter, from a young soldier to his mother, was the standout, though: insisting that his mother not blame the Army for his death, instead stating that he was doing what made him a Man, and that she should be proud of him. Both the letters and the songs carry an idealism which I find hard to reconcile, but maybe that’s just because I’m a modern grumpalump – they certainly represent a simpler, and nobler, attitude than that which I believe is prevalent today.
While the accompanying pianist is fine, Lili’s voice is really the centre of attention. When she soars, she really soars; her voice is strong and pure of tone. The only niggle – and it’s only a tiny problem, really – is that occasionally some of Lili’s transitions (from her quieter voice to that beautiful operatic pitch) are as creaky as the floorboard she kept mentioning: noticeable, without being distracting. Well, there’s actually a slightly bigger detraction: the sound bleed from the amusements outside. But that’s part-and-parcel of The Garden experience (more’s the pity). But Lili’s raw talent and elegant charm is more than enough to carry the show – even her stumble in her final song (where she forgot the lyrics, ducked back to the pianist’s sheet music, whilst muttering a ridiculously cute “for goodness’ sake”) was thoroughly endearing.
Now, I’d be lying if I said I was going to dash out and buy a CD of old war tunes after this show; this really isn’t my style of music. But the show satisfied the reason I picked it: To experience something new, and to acquire something to talk to my Dad about. Except he was ten when World War II started, so he wouldn’t actully remember many of these tunes. Oh, and he’s German too. Which, given the Anglo-centric nature of the songs here (despite the solitary bilingual entry), doesn’t give me much common ground.
Great show, though.