Crossings review – unlikely friendships help heal war's horrors

Crossings begins in the aftermath of the first world war when two grieving figures meet in a rural backwater. It ends a century later with a contemporary couple whose lives circle back to the same village hall.

Margaret is a prickly unmarried woman who has lost everything to the war, including her brother, William. Grace is a charming bohemian who served on the front with William and has sought Margaret out to bury the dead man’s few remaining possessions under a tree, as instructed in the event of his death.

The plot initially seems to be about secrets the dead leave behind that posthumously reveal double lives. William was a star of the Immoral Balmorals, a theatre company that entertained troops on the frontlines while fighting alongside them, Grace tells Margaret. What’s more, Grace was in love with him. “Aren’t you’re a man?” asks Margaret accusingly. Grace – wearing a white dress, pearls and a face net – is a man. As Margaret’s guard is lowered, though, she accepts the love between her dead brother and his beguiling lover.

Victoria Brazier with O’Connell in Crossings. Photograph: Kirsten McTernan

Deirdre Kinahan’s play turns out to be an unexpected and touching drama about unlikely friendships, post-war homosexuality and the cost of war for women.

It is also fitting that this co-production by Pentabus and New Perspectives revolves around a village hall; Pentabus is dedicated to telling rural stories and tours plays about the countryside to fields, theatres and local halls. Crossings is the second work in a three-month long initiative to release one production every week online, free of charge. The first was Matt Hartley’s Here I Belong, also set in a village hall; Hattie Naylor’s As the Crow Flies is due to be available from 10 April.

The second part of the play turns its focus to the contemporary characters Sean, who is Margaret’s grandson, and Mirjana, a care worker originally from Sarajevo. Their characterisation is flatter and less affecting, and the central parallel made between their lives in 2019 and those of the 1919 couple is strained.

But good writing and fine acting make up for such flaws. Victoria Brazier and Will O’Connell, who double up for parts in both time frames, not only show versatility as actors but also have strong singing voices for the musical interludes. There are smooth switches through time in Sophie Motley’s production and minimal props are used to good effect.

For all the unresolved grief of war, Crossings is also about the joy of song and dance and, at heart, it celebrates the consolations of theatre and performance.

Crossings is available online through Pentabus.

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