Lilies on the Land is what history lessons should have been like: fun, funny, enjoyable and thought-provoking without lecturing. The Lions part draw on the true stories of the Women's Land Army who left their genteel homes to work on farms during World War Two, getting dirty, strong and independent in the process. Land Girls are brought to life with enthusiasm and little preaching: the four women on stage take the contributions from Land Girls who are still around and present them with great gusto and occasional song. We feel the physical shocks of heavy labour with them, their excitement discovering their strengths and their dismay rediscovering their vulnerabilities. It's an enjoyable evening, and you'll learn a little too.
Quite unexpectedly, the audience are shown just how protected women were, and how unnecessary their cocoons of niceties and primness turn out to be. Rosalind Cressy playing Vera who left her job at the bank to join a farm, wipes her hands on a rag and proudly tells us of her subscription to Farmers' Weekly and the 88 lambs she took care of during lambing. Sarah Finch's upper class indignation at having to pee in a field is squashed by her surprise at how little the men who eventually build her a latrine seem to know about women's bodily functions. Dorothy Lawrence and Kali Peacock as Margie and Peggy give warm and compassionate performances too that feel very real and very funny, showing not just their growing capability for hard graft, but also the discovery of their personal courage, fortitude and a love of mischief, none of which they would have known about themselves without having joined this "forgotten" army.
Lilies on the Land is very upbeat and presents the Women's Land Army as a joyful adventure of self-discovery for most of the women who took part. Alongside this is the unspoken, broader implication how much women achieved just by picking up a pitchfork, putting on the trousers and getting the men's work done, as women.
Lilies on the Land at the Arts Theatre until 17 July. For more information and to book, go to the Arts Theatre website.