Lilies on the Land
A play by the Lions part, based on the real lives of The Womens Land Army
Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford, and Touring
Over seventy years ago thousands of courageous girls, fired with an enthusiastic patriotism that only the onset of a war seems to bring, signed up for the Womens Land Army and set off for the country, a world totally alien to these city dwellers. Expecting sunny days in the fresh air happily tossing hay (the recruitment posters had promised as much) they were rudely awakened to the realities of life on the land, but there they were and they got on with the job.
The Lions Part company researched hundreds of letters and interviewed many of the surviving women and the stories of thousands have been encapsulated into the four we see on stage, Margie, Peggy, Poppy and Vera, who give an insight into their experiences so very different from their pre-war lives.
Dorothy Lawrence, Kali Peacock, Jo Castleton and Sioned Jones tell the stories with humour as well as horror. Shut in a barn surrounded by rats and having to use a hole in the middle of field as a toilet is interspersed with the comic aspect of one accidentally peeing on a rabbit and the song Run Rabbit Run taking on a whole new significance.
Dealing with crotchety farmers, unwanted attentions from insistent men, sometimes knee deep in pig shit or slimy mud or spending hours in back-breaking hoeing and planting, they still manage to make light of their exposure to a new and strange life and camaraderie and support for each other grow strong. Frozen hands could be warmed between the cows udders (poor cows) and one girl worried that she might be squeezing the teats in the wrong sequence, while another managed to plough a five acre field in record time because she hadnt been told how to turn off the tractor. Yet another called on all her strength to deliver a cow who was having a struggle and was transformed with joy and wonder at the miracle of birth.
Music from the period is played frequently, the girls soprano voices blending sweetly, and an episode which almost brings tears is Silent Night sung by them but with echoes of the German and Italian POWs all singing together, each in their own language and all with longings for home and family - and no more war. Incidentally, it seems the POWs were often given better treatment than the girls, but when the GIs come along life, and the music, becomes more exciting as they dance at the nearby American Air Base to Duke Ellington and Glen Miller.
Vividly portrayed, sympathetically lit and superbly crafted, this play will make you laugh, occasionally make you cry, and you cannot help but leave with admiration for the courage and fortitude of this forgotten army who shamefully had to wait until 2008 before their significant and vital contribution to the war effort was finally officially recognised - with a medal. This enjoyably funny and moving production, directed with compassion and understanding by Sonia Ritter, is an even more fitting tribute to the girls who kept wartime Britain fed.
Touring to Margate, Liverpool, Eastbourne, and Cambridge
Howard Loxton reviewed this production in 2010 with a slightly different cast at the Arts Theatre
Reviewer: Sheila Connor