We'll Meet Again: Review WE’LL MEET AGAIN. Richard Loring’s nostalgic musical tribute to World War II. Director/Set design: Barry Altwig. Lighting: Barry Strick. Sound: Trevor Lind. Music Direction/Choreography: Tersia Harley.  Presented by Milnerton Players. Milnerton Playhouse.

SHEILA CHISHOLM attended a rehearsal

ENSA – the acronym for Entertainment National Service Association – was formed in 1939 by Basil Dean and Leslie Hanson.  Two men with remarkable organisational skills which harnessed talented artists – in all theatrical genres – to entertain forces at the forefront of the World War II fight against Nazi Germany.  As well as on the home front to Keep The Home Fires Burning, Till the Boys Come Home, When the Lights Go On Again.

Entertainers themselves, Dean and Hanson picked up British composer/conductor Constant Lambert’s failed petition to the Ministry of Defence requesting absolving Britain’s top professional artistes from active military service. They predicted disastrous consequences for post-war artistic life, and serious public mental health issues, should performers be called to arms and (possibly) killed in action.

Having a conductor father enlisted to ENSA’s overseas corps and, myself as a very young dancer part of a concert party performing to wounded troops in hospitals, in and around Glasgow, it was with eager anticipation I drove to Milnerton Playhouse to watch a rehearsal of Richard Loring’s tribute to the courageous beleaguered men and women during WW II and the forces sweetheart, Vera Lynn (Rozelle Wilken).

We'll Meet Again: Review

Marching to the same tune

Altwig originally scheduled Loring’s nostalgic Till We Meet Again to commemorate D Day’s Normandy landings 75th anniversary in June 2019. Unfortunately, Covid knocked that out.  Undaunted, immediately restrictions eased, Altwig conscripted Christoff van Wyk (Sargent absent with leave), Chad Emslie, Tyron Lundy, Geoffrey de Klerk, Jaco Brewis and Tejan  Bhoola into Milnerton Players’ own army.  Following the BEF’s (British Expeditionary Forces) boots, these recruits learnt to march, sing in tune, dance Harley’s choreography in step and turn themselves into GIs after Pearl Harbour (The Yanks Are Coming, This Is The Army Mr Jones). A few additional rehearsals will see their heads held confidently and hear them belt out songs as soldiers do on the march.

Centre back to Altwig’s wartime set stands a camouflaged Nissen hut sheltering first-rate ENSA musicians Tersia Harley (piano), Basil Heald (bass) and Johann Rossouw (drums). On a table on audience left rests a portable typewriter. Opposite stands a 1930s wireless from which we heard Neville Chamberlain’s 3 September 1939 declaration of Britain’s war against Germany. Later we heard Winston Churchill’s broadcast paying tribute to Hurricane and Spitfire pilots: “ Never in the history of human conflict have so many owed so much to so few”. (Personally, I missed hearing King George VI. In my memory he stands as THE person who held Britain together.)

Modern day feel

It takes a director of Altwig’s experience to create a modern day feel to Loring’s historical script. For this balance he chose well, casting Chris Doran as narrator/war correspondent.

Doran lays bare WW II’s battles without overdramatising the facts. He particularly impressed talking about South Africa’s (often forgotten) contribution towards defeating Hitler. Remember “Sailor” Malan (27 confirmed enemy aircraft destroyed), El Alamein under Major General Pienaar and Tobruk. We also remembered Durban’s Lady in White (Lianne Lembeck) who, on her own initiative, took to singing Wish Me Luck As You Wave Me Goodbye to SA soldiers embarking on troop ships to sail North to engage  Rommel’s Army.

Back to Rozelle Wilken.  It could be accepted that for one as young as Wilken is, performing songs from a war three-quarters of a century ago could hold little meaning.  Not a bit. Instead, this charming, sweet-voiced young woman sang with an understanding of what songs Vera Lynn sang meant to the forces. On the other side, glamorous Marlene Dietrich (Petra Baker) may have been from the enemy camp, but the allies regularly tuned in to hear her husky sensuous voice.

Youngsters may consider WW II’s story belongs in dry history books.  Not so. Aided by good sound, lighting effects and original clips We’ll Meet Again is a must for all ages.  So do go along to Milnerton Playhouse for a grand sing-along of much loved songs.

What: We’ll Meet Again

Where and when: Milnerton Playhouse from 13 to 28 May 2022

Tickets: Book for show and dinner/show at www.milnertonplayers.co.za/bookings/ or Quicket 

WS