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war cast

Oh What a Lovely War

Belgrade Theatre, Coventry

*****

THE poignancy of this show is palpable in this time of commemoration of the ‘War to end all wars’.

It is a moving production and comes out of the juxtaposition of the jolly, jingoistic war songs, even the bawdy, gutsy songs of the soldiers and horrors portrayed on the stage in microcosm and on the backdrop screen in reality.

Joan Littlewood’s vision is alive and well in this thought-provoking Theatre Royal Stratford East production, staged as a Pierrot Show, redolent of Edwardian theatre techniques and is extremely watchable.

The set is a recreation of an Edwardian theatre in war time with Union flags and Britannia in front of an amazing proscenium arch. The company has some very famous faces and some that will be famous in years to come – all incredibly hard-working and efficient. I particularly liked the role of Master of Ceremonies (Ian Reddington) who initially guided us into the ‘War Games’ section that laid out, in as few moves as possible, the reasons behind the First World War.

I have a History degree but I’m not going to attempt it here…suffice it to say the four-year scrap left 10 million young men dead and many more injured and missing. What comes across incredibly strongly is the arrogance and ignorance of General Haig, and the senseless loss and the heartbreak of the whole.

The most moving section is the arrival of the new Irish brigades, picked off one by one, and the ‘mutiny’ of the French soldiers, baaing like lambs to the slaughter, and choosing to be shot rather than face any more. The zombie dance for the well-known ‘Bells of Hell’ song is wonderful.

If I’ve painted a picture of pain and heartache, yes there’s plenty, but overall it’s an optimistic and funny production where the joy of the music – with a real band in a real orchestra pit – and some great performances, particularly the role of the women in engaging their men to sign up – white feathers flung into the audience and Wendi Peters leading the audience in a rich rendition of ‘Sister Susie Sewing Shirts for Soldiers’!

The part that did it for me for the famous scene of Tommy on Christmas Eve listening to ‘Jerry’ singing Stille Nacht and responding with ‘Christmas Day in the Cookhouse’ – and an amazingly choreographed game of football in no-man’s land.

This is first-class stuff, directed by Terry Johnson,and as such is truly unmissable. To 04-04-15

Jane Howard

31-03-15

The production is at Birmingham Repertory Theatre 5-9 May, 2015 

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