In September 1914 it was reported that the often naïve and cheery British Tommies stood in their trenches and cheered the firework displays of bombs exploding above them. It was all an adventure on foreign soil – a short sharp shock to beat the Hun – a battle or two that would see the gallant boys back home in time for Christmas and Oh What A Lovely War they would have.
In 1963 theatre rebel Joan Littlewood and her ground breaking Theatre Workshop troupe devised the musical play that became Oh What A Lovely War. It has played many a time on stage, on film and radio as a poignant reminder of the truths, the hidden truths and the horrors of war. Fast paced, musically jaunty and comically played to the point of a dark farce it exposes the ridiculous nature of war and the terrible loss of lives across Europe and the world during 1914-18. It also serves as a device to expose the profiteers from all countries during this period.
2014 is the centenary of the war known back in 1914 as The Great War – the war to end all wars – and New Street Theatre are as proud as a bold young recruit in uniform to present their war torn production at Lakeside Theatre – Nottingham University until 26th July. Skilfully directed by Martin Berry this superb production is set in an adventure playground of wooden structures with the talented young cast dressed in severely battered Pierrot costumes. Playfulness and energy are the keynotes in this production alongside impressive harmonies and powerful singing from the ensemble. There may be holes in their trousers but there ain't no holes in this fabulously inventive production!
This explosive production is a bomb blast of musical theatre!! Right from the first whistle blow the brilliant cast launch into the jolly song “Young Johnny Jones“ and enter into The War Games with gusto. The story of World War One is played as a parody and every one of nearly thirty songs is sung by the gifted cast as if their lives depend on it. The more sombre songs are sensitively done and sung with palpable honesty. Many of the songs are recognisable from the period and the recruiting song “I'll Make A Man Out Of You!” is superbly sung by Judie Matthews and her girls.
Martin Berry directs his eleven strong cast to play all the roles regardless of their actual sex and this leads to some very comic interpretations especially those performed by Emma Nash and Joe Heap. The cast look as though they are enjoying every lively minute and fully deserved the standing ovation offered to them at the play's close. This heart felt production is one of those rare plays that you don't actually want to finish. The fun starts before play has even begun as the audience are invited on stage to play with the actors. Once the show begins the attention to detail is spot on and the lighting by lighting designer Richard Statham really adds mood and focus to the piece. There is effective use of projection to add images and facts to the work and Rhian Morris's concept for the set design is visually impacting and adds multiple opportunities for inventive staging and playing levels. This show also includes reference to the people of Nottingham during this time of war and the casualties at home and abroad.
The audience were entertained and moved in equal measure by this thrilling and professional show. There has clearly been a tremendous amount of love and work put into this show and it shows in the creative quality and the actors enthusiasms and dedication to getting the humour and pathos just right. I cannot recommend this stellar production highly enough.
It may be A Long Way Tipperary but Nottingham University Lakeside is only a stone's throw away and people will soon be fighting for tickets to see Oh What A Lovely War by New Street Theatre so book now to avoid disappointment.
Running until 26th July 2014