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Lilies on the Land

by on 5 March 2019

Milk, Muck and Memories

Lilies on the Land

by the Lions part

Teddington Theatre Club at Coward Studio, Hampton Hill Theatre until 9th March

Review by Didie Bucknall

The sun shines on a cornfield, a slim girl holding a pitchfork, dressed in spotless dungarees and a green jumper, sleeves rolled up showing her bronzed arms, her neatly curled hair loosely tied back, surveys the land – one of the enticing posters encouraging girls to join the Women’s Land Army. As an alternative to working on ‘munitions, who could resist the lure of the open countryside. Thousands joined and thousands were quickly disabused – up to the armpits in slurry, back aching from digging spuds, impossibly long hours, awful toilet arrangements and precious little food were the reality. Some girls had no idea where milk came from let alone how to milk a cow and the revelations and rude comments when putting the bull to the cow were all a shock. Some girls were well treated, others not.

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A group calling themselves the Lions part were searching for a play that gave a voice to the wartime efforts of these women and hit on the idea of placing an advertisement to gather some first-hand accounts of their experiences. They were amazed at the volume of the response. The subsequent play Lilies on the Land, these were brought together in a collection of some of these memories.

The play is a collection of snippets culled from this correspondence and is performed by four women each taking multiple parts in quick fire succession as the action follows the progress of the war, helped by a few news announcements and Churchill’s “we shall never surrender” speech.

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The four strong parts were taken by four strong actors, Juliette Sexton, Lily Tomlinson, Victoria Hinds and Héloïse Plumley, who seamlessly took on 28 different roles including farmer, farmer’s wife and American airman but mostly as their original characters – innocent northerner, happy go lucky, posh southerner, clear eyed and focussed girls.

 

In spite of the hardship there were moments of glad relief for the girls; exchanges with the Italian and German POW’s, sharing Silent Night at Christmas each in their own language, but especially when the Americans arrived and the lavish amount of food, not to mention nylons and chewing gum available was such a treat.

It was evident that everyone had developed a good rapport one with another during the production and the programme shows Jojo Leppink’s lovely photographs of the cast enjoying themselves sitting on bales in a hay barn and propping up a fence in a field at Hardwick Park Farm

It was not an easy play to stage in the restricted space of the Coward Room but director Linda Sirker and Mandy Stenhouse co-director and choreographer, moved the cast about easily and Fiona Auty’s straw-strewn staging of bales and tool shed set the scene well.

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As a theatrical piece, it was obviously a bit disjointed, though held together by the underlying narrative, but the homesickness, hardship and deprivation were there. In the end however, in spite of the very hard work and harsh conditions, the thought of returning to their ordinary lives was a rather sad prospect for the girls as things could never be the same again.

Didie Bucknall
March 2019

Photography by Jojo Leppink, Handwritten Photography

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