I stated in my last Fringe review that plays by Theatre by the River are on my can’t miss list when it comes to each years festival. My can’t miss list is rather short, but one other performer on the list is Melanie Gall.
So far at the Fringe I’ve taken in Piaf and Brel: The Impossible Concert, Stitch in Time: Knitting Cabaret, More Power to Your Knitting Nell. Each of these shows was a delight. Gall is a powerful singer with an engaging personality that brings not just the songs, but the stories surrounding the songs.
This year she’s back at the Fringe with a show featuring the music and life of Vera Lynn, England’s Sweetheart of the Forces during WWII. As with all of her shows, Gall doesn’t bring imitation but interpretation that gets at the heart of the singer’s art.
This years show is held in the ACI building. The room is rather small, and with blinds down and a somewhat unfinished character you could easily be transported back to a blacked out home in London in the 40s. Fortunately there were no V2 rockets to disrupt the performance.
One of the things I really like about Gall’s shows, is that she the songs speak for themselves. These are comfort songs, much in the way that Bangers and Mash is comfort food. However, just like Bangers and Mash can be overcooked, these songs can also be overcooked. Fortunately in the hands of a skilled singer such as Gall these songs offer comfort in the full sense, reminding the listener of all the good things life has to offer, even in the middle of the horror that is war.
Another welcome element of Gall’s performance is her genuine affection for Vera Lynn and the songs. Her enthusiasm for the singer, her life, and her music create a similar enthusiasm in her audience.
One of the interesting parts of the show is a couple of snippets of Vera Lynn being interviewed after returning home from entertaining British troops in Burma (a rarity for any British performer). Listening to it, one gets the sense of Lynn as the embodiment of the slogan, “Keep Calm and Carry On.”
One different element to this show is that Gall has conceived it as a sing-a-long. Participants were provided with song sheets going in and encouraged to sing on all the songs. The audience at the performance seemed to know a good number of the songs and willingly joined in.
Although I enjoyed the sing-a-long aspect, I was glad that by and large the audience didn’t join in on a Nightingale Sang in Berkeley square. This was the highlight song of the show for me.
Vera Lynn at 100
Along with the songs Gall also gives us a glimpse into the singer’s life. I was surprised to learn that Lynn is still alive and turns 100 this year. I had long known that over the years Lynn’s reputation had suffered ups and downs as she was considered to be too sentimental to matter anymore. What I learned in the show was that attitude had already cropped up at the height of her popularity.
Lynn is a good character for Gall. Lynn cut her own path as a singer and person, and Gall is doing much the same. After all, how many singers have knitting songs as a substantial part of their repertoires. Gall and Lynn also share adventurous personalities. I highly recommend you check out the Savvy Girl podcasts.
As all of Melanie Gall’s shows I put this down as must see Fringe.