Oh What a Lovely War

Blackeyed Theatre

Wolverhampton Arena

*****

It's been a long time since I have purchased anything, especially a theatre ticket and felt that I should have paid more , but that thought kept going through my mind as Blackeyed Theatres splendid production of Oh What  a Lovely War unveiled before me. 

In this performance every second is loaded with live music, poignant and witty theatre, comedy and dance. Added to that list is the fact that it is all delivered by just five players whose faultless work, timing and sheer talent leaves you breathless at the rate of which they change hats, and I mean that quite literally.

Written in 1963, Oh What a Lovely War is not only the creation of Joan Littlewood, but also credited to many of the Theatre Workshop associates and players of the original sixties cast. In that sense its style is firmly rooted in the genre of a Footlights review, the military concert party, or shows like ` That was the week that was' and The Goons. After writing a more traditional play with a war theme Littlewood felt that ` war is for clowns' and that gave rise to OWALW.

The central theme is the First World War and between the music, and comedy are projected the chilling statistics of the scale of human loss, politics and key dates of the time.

In truth at times some of the detail is lost in the speed of delivery or the segue to either another skit, character or costume change. However it never seems to matter as the contrast from the cheer of the music hall to the surreal stiff upper lip of the trenches keeps you focused on the fact that while war is hell, it's also profitable and politically driven.

There is a military precision in the staging of this production and no one in the cast of Robert Harding, Ben Harrison, Joseph Mann, Paul Morse and Tom Neil can be singled out as they are all superb in delivering this highly technical piece of work.

 At some point each and all of them seemed to be either playing drums or keyboards, or some other instrument, singing, acting, and dancing in solo or in unison all to a very high standard.  They even welcome you into your seats and have time for a chat prior to the show.

There are 32 songs, countless costume changes, rafts of witty and factual dialogue, some in German and French, and more, that have all been all drilled to perfection by a creative team skilfully produced and directed by Adrian McDougall. 

In the traditional sense V might have come to represent Victory but when it comes to the Blackeyed Theatre, V is for plain good old Value. A must see.  To 19-11-11

Jeff Grant   

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