The People Are Singing – A Professional Review

Why does the barbarism of war inspire so many to seek comfort in song?

Writer Lizzie Nunnery explores this in her tale of the ravages of war, seen through the eyes of a little girl. Part of the British Council’s World Stages project, Nunnery has teamed up with Ukrainian director Tamara Trunova and it premiered at Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre.  

Cora Kirk is cast in the central role as Irina, the child, and brings a notable physicality in her performance. The scenery is used well to demonstrate her abilities, but when needed, a singular spotlight, a pause for effect, and Kirk’s delivery is more than enough to let the gravitas of the script take impact.

As good as Kirk is, you just don’t quite get your head round the fact she is meant to be portraying a child. A braver choice would have to be to cast a younger actress.

The dark subject matter spent most of its time in the dark. There are flourishes from Lighting Designer Alex Dixon to punctuate the darkness but these are few and far between, and the over reliance of near darkness was in the end overused.

Language is always going to be important in a production such as this. You get the feel for it until you see the Ukrainian members of audience getting more than a just a feel for it. To a Ukrainian audience this production is simply much more – and it is that hurdle that this production fails to overcome.

Verdict: Politically charged and evocative, though it fails to seamlessly knit together the strands of song, fantasy and the horrors of war.