Oh What A Lovely War
Theatre Royal Stratford East Spring 2014
seems rather strange that this lovingly produced new version of Oh
What a Lovely War should have missed the musical's Golden Jubilee by
a matter of months. However, it is now billed as commemorating the
centenary of Joan Littlewood's birth, not to mention the start of
that tragic event which is always referred to without any irony as
“The Great War".
opening night, a good number of audience members, including several
in the press contingent, were able to recollect that original
production 51 years ago. For everyone else, especially the school
parties who will inevitably be invited to take part in this novel
reinterpretation of history, the experience will be slightly
different but equally moving.
Littlewood's Theatre Workshop has become legendary and, in part, that
is due to the savage irony of Oh What a Lovely War.
evening starts with a gentle Pierrot show packed with corny jokes
delivered with dry aplomb by Sean Pendergast.
feels like the start of a light-hearted evening continues through the
slapstick murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and the political
shenanigans that eventually led to this war to end all wars.
once the soldiers reach the trenches, the character of the evening
changes forever, with neon surtitles proclaiming the number of dead
and wounded in each succeeding battle.
is truly shocking and really brings home to viewers the terrible cost
of a four-year period that will seem to many 21st-century viewers to
have been completely pointless. However, who knows what might have
happened had the good guys not triumphed in 1918?
evening contains enough of the history and politics to satisfy
teachers bringing their classes to Stratford but there is also a
chance for humanity to shine through. This is never more apparent
than on a silent Christmas night when two groups of soldiers who had
earlier in the day been trying to kill each other become unified in
song and schnapps for a few short minutes.
magic of this musical entertainment that contains numerous songs of
the period, every single one jaunty enough to make one forget the
horrors that it is covering up, is that the original team, featuring
Joan Littlewood, Charles Chilton, Gerry Raffles and the cast managed
to create a perfect ensemble entertainment in which nobody, however
well-known, gets a disproportionate amount of the glory.
some ways, that might make the casting of TV favourites Caroline
Quentin and Michael Simkins unnecessary. However, they do their bit
alongside a dedicated crew of performers who sing, dance and act
their hearts out.
doing so, they pay appropriate tribute to a legendary piece of
theatrical history that still feels vibrant and important 51 years
after its initial production at Stratford East, prior to a mooted
West End transfer that would be equally well-deserved for Terry
Johnson's enjoyable revival.
- Oh What A Lovely War - Theatre Royal Stratford East - 2014