The Prodigals

Belgrade Theatre, Coventry

**** 

THIS seemingly simple tale of a man with two sons is set against the backdrop of a company of Scottish Soldiers, the ‘Highland Cavalry’, off to Afghanistan to destroy the poppy harvest.

It sets off at a cracking pace with high-energy song and dance numbers that leave you breathless. The initial vision scene is gripping; a huge cage centre-stage has a projection of poppies gradually withering in a time-lapse shot that both sums up the poppy’s import to the plot and the Remembrance Day poppy.

The action is quite dark, as is the set, punctuated by immense lighting effects and sound to simulate helicopters flying overhead. The MASH generation knows what it’s in for . . .

The plot, father Colonel Luke Gibson (a very watchable Simon Bowman), career soldier with a family tradition of soldiering, his elder son Captain Mike (Sam Ferriday) and black sheep Kyle (Greg Oliver). Kyle and friend Kelly (Sarah Watson), both ‘army brats’ dream of a huge music career. YouTube helps their dream take flight – but Kyle is in the army now. And they both flirt with the weed – and worse. But they pay a high price for success.

Parallels with such as Pete Docherty and Amy Winehouse emerge – and sadly Kelly takes an overdose, Lyle gets the blame and is imprisoned.

Not much meat here for a musical?

Fair question – but levity arrives in the form of three air stewardesses to ‘guide’ them on their ‘trip’. The ensemble provides all the parts, dancers and soldiers, as the stories of the two brothers diverge and these three wonderful characters are welcome relief – Emma Franklin, Melanie Brown and Sarah Wilkie.

If ‘less is more’ then the corollary is also true, and there were times when I felt overloaded; the noise, the music, the dry ice, far too much scene-changing that didn’t speed the story, confusion in separating the characters – and too much activity in the early stages that hinder our attempts to build empathy.

 The best tunes are at the end, there’s a fine one – ‘Confession’ - that Kelly sings from beyond the grave, sibling rivalry provides the backdrop for ‘Invisible Son’ and the finale ‘Sons of Glory’ is potentially great. All in all, you couldn’t fault the energy and it’s an enjoyable evening with a good story well told by director Joe Harmston who co-wrote the show with Ray Goudie. To 14-09-13.

Jane Howard 

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