Bullets and Daffodils

Dean Johnson
Tristan Bates Theatre

Lindsay Field
Chloe Torpey and Charlotte Roberts
Dean Johnson

Wilfred Owen’s poetry is undoubtedly celebrated all over our green and pleasant land. The cast and artistic team of Bullets and Daffodils clearly wish to honour his life and poetry in a way which is thought provoking, moving and different. Their commitment to the piece is evidence of this, and young actress Chloe Torpey often shines with her portrayal of Wilfred’s mother Susan.

The style is described as a musical based on war poetry. A number of Owen’s poems feature and are woven into the story of his life as told through the eyes of Susan. Some are set to song, delivered by singers Lindsay Field and Dean Johnson, who is also the composer, writer and director of the piece. Others are narrated in the rich, velvety tones of Christopher Timothy. The highlight of Bullets and Daffodils is the ever-resonating recorded reading of Dulce et Decorum Est, which never fails to horrify.

There are bucket-loads of good intentions behind this piece but unfortunately the cast seem a little bit like a fish out of water. Owen’s poetry is an excellent and fertile pasture for theatre but there seems to be a woeful lack of experience in staging, creating and then delivering a piece which is specifically labelled as ‘musical theatre’. Yes there is music, yes there is theatre but the two do not marry particularly well.

Singer Field has a lovely voice which would not sound out of place coming from the mouth of Mrs Johnston in Blood Brothers except that Johnson’s direction seems to be walk on stage, stand and sing with as little movement or audience engagement as possible… then walk off again. This method was repeated several times and smacked of inexperience and a lack of confidence in transferring a good cabaret performer to the genre of musical theatre.

Charlotte Roberts has choreographed and performs in the production—her style is described as “body poetry” but the beauty and well thought out intricacy of Owen’s poetry is not matched by Roberts’s dance. It was not always clear what movement was trying to express, and Roberts part as ‘The Figure’ did not seem to fit fully and with obvious purpose within the piece. Although there is the slight exception; an effective portrayal of a gas attack in which a sickly green light shines through a translucent white fabric which Roberts waves over the gas masked face of Torpey Is a striking image.

Johnson is first and foremost a songwriter, and a couple of his songs do stick in the memory; the title song “Bullets and Daffodils” is the strongest piece of music. However he needs more experience in direction and dramaturgy in order to make sure that the work is fully integrated. Bullets and Daffodils would make an strong radio play; the visuals need to be reworked substantially.

Reviewer: Anna Jones