Oh What a Lovely War!

What's it about?

Story By:

Joan Littlewood

Directed By:

Tim Schuler

Review of the Show

Photos Link: https://photos.app.goo.gl/PH7Sgo3nenc1kZS89

ESTABLISHED in 1928, New Forest Players have become a well-established amateur dramatic society who aim to present three plays/Musicals every year. I have personally seen previous shows performed by this company, all of which are of a good standard and entertaining.

Oh What A Lovely War is one of those plays that I see advertised while travelling around the country, but I’ve never had the chance to catch the show itself so I was therefore really excited about watching this production.

Created and first performed by Joan Littlewood’s Theatre Workshop in 1963, the show received great critical acclaim from London audiences and critics. In 1969, a star-studded film version was made, which extended the play’s popular success.

It is an account of the First World War featuring a range of songs from the era, many with new lyrics written in the trenches. It was originally performed at the Theatre Royal Stratford East and has become an important part of British theatre history.

The Play always attracted controversy. The Lord Chamberlain, who acted as the official theatre censor, only allowed the original production to transfer to the West End after Princess Margaret intervened. When it transferred to Broadway, America was involved in the Vietnam War and, uncomfortable with the show’s fiercely anti-war message, many members of the audience walked out.

The show’s satirical tone continues to provoke strong reactions. It may provide a very particular view of the First World War, but in doing so, it challenges us to think about the issues, while providing us with a gloriously theatrical piece of entertainment.

The opening shows a delightfully dressed raised stage and Musical Director Ann Batt sitting at the piano. The stage was then filled by the 13-strong cast who transported the audience to the period of the First World War using comedy, songs and drama, supported by a montage of images and information which create a picture of life for those on the front line and those behind it.

The use of projections helped move the show along by showing relevant dates and interesting statistics which are both informative and on more than one occasion made me gasp at the number of casualties in various battles. My only one criticism is that the projections at the very end of the show were shown too quickly and didn’t give the audience time to completely take in all the information, which I am sure has taken someone a great amount of time to compile. But this would be my one and only criticism of a truly entertaining show.

There are many scenes and sketches to choose from, but I particularly enjoyed Alan Whitty’s tricycle scenes, and the speeches during the ‘Belgium Falls’ scene were very moving.

Strong performances from all the cast, which included Steve Batt, Roger Cooper, Chris Davis, Laraine Dunleavy, Wendy Mason, Martin Pitman, Alan Ponting, Clive Rigden, Andrew Simpson, Margaret Soares, Judy Spooner, Alan Whitty and the director, Tim Schuler. I particularly enjoyed Andrew Simpson’s characterisations and use of dry humour where necessary.

Special mention needs to be given to Chris Davis for his sheer energy and always delivering his dialogue with a clear intention to move the show along.

The changing of scenes moved smoothly, which is testament to the Directors – Tim Schuler & Mike Lovibond and Stage Manager – Bernard Dunleavy particularly when going in and out of the technically tricky ‘trenches’ scenes.

Compliments to the company too for the set, which they built themselves, and the clever use of props organised by Maureen Barlow & Robert Stanley. I particularly enjoyed the shooting scene with the cork guns!

The Light & Sound operated by Terry Macquaide was great too and I liked the sound effects which were always bang on cue (pardon the pun).

The costumes organised by Ylana Lovell and Annabel Lewis were wonderful and authentic.

I simply can’t finish my review without mentioning the squeaky curtain… those who watch the show will know what I mean.

Oh What a Lovely War remains a classic of the modern theatre world. It is a reminder of the atrocities of a war, which cost the lives of so many. The company should be very proud of this production which was excellently cast and well executed.

It is testament to the society that they present three plays a year, the next show being ‘Abigail’s Party’ from 29th October to 1st November 2014. Producing this amount of shows each year must take great teamwork and effort from the production team and members.

Pete Whitaker

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