With the 100th anniversary of the start of World War One last year, it seemed a natural choice by the Theatre Royal Stratford East to revive the dark musical that re-examines the established view of ‘The Great War’. Following this revival last year, the same production started on its six month national tour last month where I saw it, on its first leg.
For those who don’t know the play (myself included), it seems a little strange to begin with, and I’m not too sure if I’m in the right place. I quickly realise that some context is important in understanding the play. Directed by Joan Littlewood in 1963, ‘Oh What A Lovely War’ was inspired by a radio work that interspersed songs of the time with factual pieces and comment on the war. Littlewood is closely linked with Theatre Royal Stratford East, her socially conscious Theatre Workshop was permanently based there and the theatre retains the tagline of ‘the People’s Theatre’ suggesting that her influence lives on to this day.
The production gets off to a slightly shaky start with what seems like some sound issues, but by half way through the first act, it connects together more. There are aspects of the production that feels amateur although I’m not sure if this is the intention given the environment in which it was developed. Wendi Peters (probably best known for playing the vile Cilla in Coronation Street) is a joy to watch with an excellent voice particularly in “I’ll Make a Man of You”. There are moments of brilliant staging, particularly the impressive choreography of the number “Hold Your Hand Out Naughty Boy”.
The juxtaposition of jolly sing-songs or large theatrical numbers with the colossal death toll flashing up in figures in the background makes for an uncomfortable viewing experience. However, I think that with the passing of time and more widely accepted historical revisionism, Oh What A Lovely War has lost some of its initial impact. Moreover, as someone whose view of the First World War is shaped by Blackadder Goes Forth, the show unfairly appears to have lost some of its originality. But, Oh What A Lovely War remains relevant and is worth seeing I am pleased that, with the national tour, more people will be able to access the important message. 2.5/5
Review written by Emily Channon.
Oh What A Lovely War is currently showing at the Theatre royal Stratford East until Saturday 7th Feb. For more information on the production, visit here…