Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

Making a song and dance of it

Oh, What a Lovely War!

The Arcadians

Crescent Theatre, Birmingham


OH, WHAT a lovely performance from The Arcadians in their own tribute to the fallen in the so called war to end all wars!

A fine cast deliver all the poignancy, drama, sadness and humour built into Joan Littlewood’s brilliant musical which mocks so much of the hypocrisy surrounding World War I.

Marking the centenary of the war’s outbreak, the production works well on a fairly bare stage with grim black-and-white photographs from the muddy trenches projected on a screen behind the actors, and regular updates about thousands of lives lost for just a few hundred yards of ground gained.

The show opens in a light-hearted vein, with the excellent Master of Ceremonies, Frank Foley, chatting up the audience and cracking jokes before the real action starts on a Brighton beach with a group of smartly dressed pierrots singing and dancing.

They continue to appear in various scenes and in numerous roles throughout the performance, responding to Chloe Turner’s impressive choreography and the direction of Pam and James Garrington.


One of the highlights is provided by Kate Dyer as, from a music hall stage, she lures recruits to the ranks with a promise to ‘make a man’ of anyone who ‘takes the shilling’, to music provided by MD Lauren Coles and her excellent band.

Other memorable numbers from the period are sung by Gabby Thompson, Michelle Burgess, Claire Vaughan, Sonya Williams and Laura Peters, while the men in the chorus provide bundles of humorous satire with other popular wartime songs, including If the Sergeant steals Your Rum, Never Mind, Joe Soap’s Army and Hanging on the Old Barbed Wire.

There’s a wonderful scene, too, in which a group of Irish soldiers turn up with their own version of a Michael Flatley dance, and the famous scene where a group of Tommies leave the trenches and enjoy a Christmas drink with German soldiers is well presented.

Plenty of digs at the blustering, pompous top brass who seem obsessed with numbers rather than the well-being of men they are clearly sending to their death, and there is a powerful performance from James Baldwin as Field Marshall Douglas Haig, Commander-in-Chief of the British Forces.

One of several emotional scenes comes with a church parade near the battle front, ladies of the company perfectly dressed as nurses while the troops add some of their own words to the hymns.

Overall, the Selly Oak based company can be proud of their performance in marking the centenary of a shocking war, and the lighting and sound effects are particularly good.

Ironically a number of people in the first night audience had wandered through Birmingham’s German market on the way to this show, which runs to 22.11.14

Paul Marston


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