As London basks in the glory of a successful Pride weekend and theatres across the capital are scheduling around the anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality, Yank! A World War II Love Story, has opened at the Charing Cross Theatre. Written by Joseph and David Zellnik, it comes to London following a sell-out run at the Hope Mill Theatre in Manchester.
Directed by James Barker, Yank! is a love story which would rarely have been told, because it involves two soldiers serving in the US Army. Homosexuality was a crime, and if you weren’t a ‘regular’ or ‘normal’ guy you’d probably find yourself in the typing pool, naming each other after characters from Gone With The Wind. Or if you weren’t so lucky, a military prison.
The story points out, quite effectively, that relations between soldiers, even the straight ones, were quite common. As large groups of men found themselves away from loved ones for months, or years, at a time. These spontaneous acts mostly went unpunished, the crime was wanting it to happen.
The plot follows a love affair between Mitch and Stu, two soldiers starting off on basic training, they are separated when Stu meets the promiscuous Artie, wonderfully played by Chris Kiely, and is hired as a reporter for Yank! Magazine. Mitch and Stu are reunited later in the war but enemy soldiers are not the only battle they face. Some lovely storytelling techniques are employed to help draw the audience in, and you very quickly find yourself invested in the story.
While the set does look a little amateurish, with some parts threatening to collapse at any moment, the production on the whole is far more professional. The first act is comprised mainly of upbeat or romantic tunes with plenty of camp dance routines, including a rather impressive tap segment. Chris Cuming’s choreography sets the scene beautifully, with nice ensemble numbers and those early buoyant routines.
The second act takes a more serious look at the consequences of the characters actions and the brutal realities of being gay in the army at that time. The audience is taken on an emotional journey which is both fascinating and distressing.
Unsurprisingly, it’s a fairly testosterone fuelled production, and the female characters, many pivotal to the story, are all played by Sarah-Louise Young. It actually works really well, representing the psyche of the soldiers starved of female company, Young does a remarkable job of giving each character a distinct personality.
Andy Coxon plays Mitch, he’s fantastic at displaying the conflict his character feels, fooling himself as much as his fellow soldiers about his sexuality, despite playing the macho hero, there’s a beautiful tenderness in his performance. Scott Hunter is breath-taking as Stu, in those later scenes of act two, he passionately and compellingly portrays the fear and injustice of the situation, it is a truly powerful performance.
“Some stories didn’t make it into the history books…” and Yank! Is a beautiful love story, and one that deserves to be told. The score, cast and choreography are first class and this could easily enjoy a decent West End run, with some upgrading of sets and costumes. While there’s a lot to love, it’s the touching and dynamic performances from Andy Coxon and Scott Hunter, who have this incredible chemistry together, which makes this one of the best musicals to hit London this year.