Review: ‘The Tree of War’

9 Sep

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Music & Lyrics by Oliver Mills.  Book & Lyrics by Rachel Mann

On Saturday afternoon, I saw the second-ever performance of The Tree of War.  I mention this because – well, have you ever been in at the start of something big, and known it was the start of something big?  That’s where I was at on Saturday afternoon.

The Tree of War is a musical about life in the trenches in WWI.  Written, scored and directed by a poet priest and a twenty-year-old music student, it was a community theatre project at St Nicholas’ Church in Burnage, funded by Manchester City Council.  A précis: Grandpa Bert tells his granddaughter the story of his time in the trenches.  That’s it; that’s the whole story.  And what a marvellous, rousing, moving story it was.

I had better declare an interest here: my son, Alex Cosgriff, played Young Bert – ladies’ man; loyal son; good friend; cannon fodder.  He played him well: his singing was wonderful; he really can act; I burst with pride.  But he wasn’t the whole play – a strong community choir and a good amateur cast was headed by Mike Law as Grandpa Bert: he was warm and cosy, sad and regretful.  Sam Gilliatt as Bert’s friend Greville has a voice with the sweetest tone, and his duet with Alex was a thing of beauty.  Jamie Rahman played Dougie McBride as a dour Scot; with a gorgeous voice, his solo sent shivers down many a spine.

The exploration of life in the trenches was well conceived – boredom, fear, letters to and from home; and the drinking…ah! the drinking!  The best number among a raft of great numbers was The Lads’ Drinking Song: bawdy, irreverent, rousing and huge fun.

The staging was excellent.  The tree of the title was out in the foyer, and that’s where the action began.  The audience stood to watch until directed to move into the trench area, which was set almost completely in the round.  We were in the trenches with the lads and shared their laughter and tears; their hopes and fears.  We could see their sweat and almost smell their breath.

In any play about the Great War, of course, the lads inevitably go over the top.  They disappeared to the sounds of mortar shells, through smoke and noise; and when it was finished and Young Bert lay huddled, terrified, guilty, sobbing, he had the whole audience riveted.  Tears for all of those boys flowed like their blood, and didn’t stop until after the final, whole ensemble’s rendition, specially arranged by Oliver, of Jerusalem.  As I fruitlessly wiped my own tears I heard a woman behind me say to her friend, ‘I can’t stop crying!’

If I have a criticism of The Tree of War, it is that it needs another twenty minutes and at least one more song – possibly a ballad for Young Bert – because it will have trouble getting to the West End otherwise.  And believe me, this is a play that deserves a wide audience.  If Oliver and Rachel don’t take it to Edinburgh next year, they’re mad.  They could take it at this length and then extend it when it gets picked up.  Look out for Oliver Mills because he is a massive talent.  To write such music and direct with such flair at his age…words fail me. 

After the show, I went up to congratulate Oliver.  I think I frightened him a little because I wanted to throw my arms around him and hug him to death; I settled for grabbing both of his hands and refusing to let them go while I raved about what I’d just witnessed.  I understand the impulse of the woman who clutched Alex’s arm and said, ‘I don’t usually grab strangers but I want to be able to say I touched you before you were famous.’

I want to be able to say I reviewed Rachel Mann’s and Oliver Mills’ premiere production of The Tree of War before it was a massive worldwide hit. 

You read it here first.





25 Responses to “Review: ‘The Tree of War’”

  1. Janie Jones September 9, 2014 at 12:13 #

    You make me wish I was right there alongside you….

    Liked by 1 person

  2. jmgoyder September 9, 2014 at 12:18 #

    How wonderful and how proud you must be of Alex – fantastic post! I wish I had been there.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. judyt54 September 9, 2014 at 13:25 #

    You put us in this so wonderfully, and yeah, i cant stop crying. And I look at those boys on stage and think, they arent all that much younger than the boys who went into that war…which in itself is a heartbreaker, makes you sort of rethink war itself.

    The review ain’t all that bad either. =)

    Liked by 1 person

  4. vivienne blake September 9, 2014 at 14:06 #

    I’m not surprised you’re emotional about it: my congratulations to all concerned. This review deserves to be published as well – have you sent it to the local paper?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. laurieanichols September 9, 2014 at 15:18 #

    You made me feel as if I were there and I felt so much pride for Alex. I do hope that they take this play on the road; it needs to be shared! I started smiling when I saw your post in my inbox and I am still smiling as I type. How exciting for the Cosgriff household! Hooray for Alex, his cast mates and his proud Maman! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  6. slpmartin September 9, 2014 at 16:17 #

    I suspect it will be awhile before it reaches SoCal..but do appreciate the review and the skill with which it was written.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Karen Snyder September 9, 2014 at 16:44 #

    Congratulations all around! Will we get a sampling of any of the vocals?

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Hattie September 9, 2014 at 18:52 #

    It sounds so wonderful. I live where there is little or no theater, just a small scene with no young people coming in, so I’m very jealous.
    You have every right to be proud of your wonderful, talented son (s)!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Rachel Mann September 9, 2014 at 21:12 #

    Thank you so much for an utterly lovely review. Ollie and I very much have plans for the development of the show. 🙂


  10. Three Well Beings September 10, 2014 at 06:16 #

    I hope this play does very, very well and indeed does travel to where I can one day see it! I will remember your enthusiastic review. Congratulations to your talented son. I really wish I could see him perform. Again, maybe one day!


  11. granny1947 September 11, 2014 at 15:26 #

    Sounds awesome…bias aside. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  12. SchmidleysScribbling September 12, 2014 at 19:34 #

    I’ll bet you frightened that young man. Nothing like a frenzied admirer throwing herself at you. Next thing we know you will be a groupie, following the boys and ripping off bits of clothes. Just kidding of course. I know you are overcome with admiration for the young actor who will soon change his name to Rock or Rip or something…anything! Congratulations Mum…

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Alison Mills September 27, 2014 at 23:44 #

    Thank you for your very kind words about the ‘Tree of War’. All the cast and crew worked incredibly hard it was a fantastic team effort. I may be a little biased too !!



  1. Of Death, Tin, Trees & Moles | The Laughing Housewife - March 2, 2015

    […] may remember how I raved about The Tree of War last September; well, this just in: it has been extended, extra songs added, and is to be staged for […]


  2. The Tree Of Bore | The Laughing Housewife - September 5, 2015

    […] the trenches, written by a vicar and a (then) university student. Here’s last year’s review of the preview show.  The show has been extended, with more songs added – including a solo for Bert.  It’s […]


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