Kisses on a Postcard is a dramatic musical written by Terence Frisby, based on his own experiences of being an evacuee during World War 2. Directed by Dominic Frisby, the four hour audio recording is particularly suitable for listening to in small parts (and has been divided by the Company into chapters which suit this bitesize style of listening). It covers the four years that evacuees Terry (Brandon McGuiness) and Jack (Frankie Joel-Celoni) spend in a Cornish village after being evacuated from south-east London.
The musical is narrated by an adult Terry (Dominic Frisby) which creates a feeling of nostalgia over what was a difficult but also adventurous time in his life. There is a feeling of Great Expectations, particularly as the adult Terry compares his “two childhoods” and how different they were, without of course saying that either was better, because both made him the man he grew up to be.
The evacuated children are often excited by the adventure of moving into the country, with the thrill of travelling to Cornwall on an actual steam train palpable in both the dialogue and song. This contrasts well with the worry they have for their parents who are being left behind. Jack and Terry’s mother (Rosie Cavaliero) creates good emotional tension and her song (sung by Louise Cookman) is very poignant. The musical does a brilliant job of giving life to the parents of evacuees and how they felt about sending their children away, a part of the evacuee story often neglected as the focus often falls onto the children themselves and the adults who took them in, rather than the parents left under bombardment.
The drama of the evacuee allocation feels particularly relevant after the recent scenes of refugees waiting to be allocated somewhere to go. Terry and Jack face issues over their insistence on staying together, but manage to convince Auntie Rose (Katy Seacombe) to take them both in.
Uncle Jack (John Owen-Jones) represents the experience of World War One veterans well, both drip-feeding the boys information about his experiences in the trenches and steadfastly “not talking about it”. We of course look back on the First World War in hindsight and recognise the signs of PTSD which then were not spoken about, and this creates a feeling of sadness as Auntie Rose insists the boys shouldn’t ask Uncle Jack too many questions.
Uncle Jack and Auntie Rose’s son Gwyn’s (Ian Virgo) ambitions of being a singer rather than a miner or a railway worker, two jobs which Uncle Jack has done, and their support of his dreams, create a very different feeling to today when parents can sometimes steer their children away from the instability of a career in the arts, and are more likely to push them towards a steady job. This feels particularly pertinent when certain degrees are being discontinued by universities due to their not leading to a “well-paid job”.
Gwyn’s later call up to fight and his departure bring Auntie Rose’s experiences as a mother full circle to parallel with Terry and Jack’s own mother’s experience of watching her sons go away. The differences between sending Terry and Jack away for safety and Gwyn going away to fight, particularly in light of the effect that the earlier war had on Uncle Jack, create some good emotional tension.
The songs throughout the piece are very good, combining joy with melancholy in the way the best dramatic musicals do. As the piece is audio based with no visuals, some of them can feel a little long, though it is easy to see how on stage, they would be the big numbers with lots of intricate movement to bring a lot of the cast together in one tableau.
This being a war drama there are of course, lots of songs about saying goodbye and not always knowing where you are going to end up. This creates a level of tenderness throughout the piece and gives life to a war which is feeling increasingly remote and historical in today’s world, even though it does very much remain within living memory.
The songs, Got Any Gum, Chum?, and GI Bride, about American life and culture are very catchy and fun additions to the piece which create a sense of the excitement and adventure that American soldiers brought to Britain with them. GI Bride also has a sense of tragedy in view of the number of British girls who fell for American soldiers who were destined to never return to them.
Snippets of RP bring our historical knowledge of the Second World War crashing into the real lives of ordinary people at the time, as we hear commentary on the news from the people listening to it in their living rooms. There is an honesty to the piece which shows society without the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia. As well as the adults of the musical being exhausted by war, the children bully each other on the train to Cornwall, there is conflict between the “vacky” and village children after they arrive, and prejudice and discrimination are themes which arise throughout. Dominic Frisby’s narration does a good job of combining his adult experience with his childhood innocence, reflecting on the past without holding back on its darker elements.
The characterisation of Grannie Peters (Marcia Warren) is excellent, and she makes a big impact in her short appearance. Her use of the evacuee children to gladly regress to caring for her own children is heart-breaking and brings a painful sense of reality to the loss that people experienced during this period.
Elsie (Evelyn Hoskins), a lone evacuee from Plymouth, finds herself caught in the lonely space of not belonging to either group of children. At fifteen Elsie is one of the older evacuees and is considered by some of the villagers, particularly Miss Polmanor (Rosie Cavaliero), whom she is unfortunately living with, to be a shameless flirt and “hussy”. Elsie’s story dramatically alters when the cohort of American GIs are stationed in the village and her emotional journey provides a good commentary on the current news regarding forced adoptions and homes for “unwed mothers”.
The piece does a good job of commenting on religion and the impact it can have on attitudes in communities. Uncle Jack’s absolute atheism creates some decent conflict with Miss Polmanor’s Christian values and the way that Jack and Terry carefully consider and discuss religion as a result is an interesting and thought-provoking twist.
Clever sound editing does a very good job of creating the country atmosphere and the sense of the villagers watching bombs drop onto their closest city. The sense of peril felt for their urban neighbours is brought to the fore for the village as various incidents occur over of the course of the piece, creating life and death situations in the seemingly safe environment of the remote countryside. These moments of very real danger contrast nicely with the sense of childhood wonder over the more benign experiences Jack and Terry have, such as seeing an elephant when the circus visits a nearby town.
Kisses on a Postcard is an excellent musical which creates a real sense of World War Two and the experiences of the people who lived through it. There are some very funny moments in amongst the drama, the scene where cattle were punched being one which particularly stands out as memorable. In many ways, the piece describes an idyllic childhood, against a contrasting backdrop of terror and loss. It is a piece which reminds us that the simplest moments can be the best of our lives and is beautifully real, heartbreakingly poignant and painfully relevant to the world we’re living in today. The piece feels as though it would work very well as a television series, similar to the very popular Home Fires, with the different episodes covering the many adventures Jack and Terry have in the Cornish village. This is definitely something a family could enjoy on those rainy days over the summer holidays, dipping in and out of the vacky life over those six weeks until school begins again.
Kisses on a Postcard is available to listen to here https://kissesonapostcard.com/watch/
Reviewer: Donna M Day
Reviewed: 31st July 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★