Under The Shadow of Your Wings, Act One
It is 1919 and Peter Wilcock, soon to be decommissioned from the army, is hoping that Dorothy Barker will emigrate to New Zealand with him as his wife. Dorothy refuses his offer, preferring to remain to look after her younger sister, Cicely, who is emerging as a commercial artist. Peter is a stern critic of Cicely’s work. He wants her art to be less fanciful and to address the world as it is. Mary Barker, the girls’ mother, is motivated by the commercial value of Cicely’s work and resents Peter’s interference. When the local curate takes an interest in the family, Mary Barker is keen to draw him in as an ally. Peter leaves when Dorothy makes clear her decision but he believes she will regret having tied herself to Cicely.
Some years later, Cicely has found success painting her Flower Fairies. She transforms the ordinary children, who attend Dorothy’s nursery, into ethereal creatures. Another of her models is the family’s maid-of-all-work and she is lifted above the drudgery of her life by being given ‘wings’ as a fairy. This transformation excites the curate who then engages Cicely on a much larger project for his church. Dorothy is becoming increasingly embittered; no-one seems to recognise that she is devoting herself to smoothing Cicely’s life for her.
When the Second World War breaks out, the curate leaves to become an army chaplain and the Barkers are left alone to face up to rationing and bombing. Cicely’s fairies seem too fragile for this new era and, when her studio is wrecked in an air-raid, her spirit breaks. Mary sends her into the country to stay with her cousins, leaving Dorothy feeling completely purposeless and increasingly weary.