The Poor Soldier – Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds

It was George Washington’s favourite play and possibly the first Broadway Musical so The Poor Soldier comes with a strong pedigree, so why is this possibly the first professional production in a couple of hundred years?

Presented as part of the Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds’ Restoring The Repertoire initiative to resurrect classics of Georgian Theatre, The Poor Soldier is the first musical of the period the theatre have tackled.

It’s not a wholly historical piece with a cast of actor musicians but aside from that it’s a traditional Georgian romp, mistaken identities, unrequited love and a bit of bawdy humour. Think Sheridan’s The Rivals meets Gay’s Beggars Opera and you get the idea.

And there lies a problem – while the piece is well performed by the versatile cast and the script is entertaining, it’s nothing we haven’t seen before in productions such as those above. Another problem lies in the score, while undoubtedly of the period; the piece lacks any real variety with the same thematic pieces merging into one. Colin Blumenau’s production doesn’t really allow the humour to fully develop in the romp it verges on becoming.

The Theatre Royal should be congratulated for restoring these lost plays but perhaps a more inventive approach to production is needed to bring these to life for a modern audience. If the aim is purely to stage the pieces as historical replication that is fine and commendable in its own way but does that belong in a theatre or a museum? Surely part of the appeal of theatre is to see how classic texts can resonate with modern life?

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