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. In our own uncertain times war in The Ukraine and other parts of the world and its preparators and horrific causalities are sadly all to close to home.
Oh What A Lovely War! has been called a challenging jigsaw of a theatre piece and here at the Curve studio this mostly admirable Leicester De Montfort University drama student co-production with Curve finds the audience searching for some seemingly missing pieces on its slow and slightly confusing opening. Initially, it’s not entirely clear what the set is or the purpose of the cast all dressed in white all-in -one overalls and green safety hats; a young cast that start to invade the space in a kind of controlled yet frantic assembly. At times, in the first act the vocal sound from the head microphones is unpredictable and makes the work a little bit of a struggle to follow and some of the humour to work. One hopes that this will be ironed out for the rest of the run. The plain white costumes could indicate anonymity and in some aspects that would work in a theatrical work about millions of soldiers led to slaughter. However, to define other characters and personalities from the time within the sketches and story telling just wearing plain white overalls it is left down to the talents of the actors and the director’s choices in presenting Joan Littlewood’s satirical – musical entertainment more clearly.
And this is where the positives come in. The drama students of De Montfort University Leicester do a terrific job of presenting this show once it finds its feet after the first number. Even an elderly member of the audience on the front row is joining in with the rowing mime in the song Row Row Row!
The Oh What A Lovely War! highlights are brought about by the cast’s skilled choral and independent singing skills and some quality expressive acting. There are plenty of fun songs to enjoy and in the harsher second half, plenty to get the emotions going and the hankies out. Expect such first act Music Hall styled beauties as Row Row Row (Young Johnny Jones), I’ll Make A Man Out of You, Hitchykoo, Hold Your Hand Out You Naughty Boy and We Don’t Want To Lose You. The second act fills up with over twenty songs of a martial, poignant and satirical nature and reflect the WW1 soldiers entrenched dissatisfaction with how the war is proceeding and the phenomenal causalities and death tolls on all sides. Dark trench humour is relayed through over twenty songs including Gassed Last Night, Oh What A Lovely War, Hush, Here Comes A Whizzbang, There’s A Long Long Trail, I Don’t Want To Be A Soldier, If The Sergeant Steals Your Rum, When This Lousy War is Over and When They Ask Us. The more sombre songs are sensitively done and sung with palpable honesty.
There has clearly been a tremendous amount of love and work put into this show by the students and its director Lilac Yosiphon. It shows in the creative quality and the actors enthusiasms and dedication to getting the humour and pathos just right. Not an easy job as this is a challenging play with music to get right. The use of the raised stage, side and upper levels and floor space by the actors creates a good dramatic feeling of intimacy. Oh What A Lovely War‘s musical director is Ben Garnett; the set and costume design is by Eleanor Field with lighting and sound by Rhys Parker (lighting) and Angel Rossell De Pablos. Sound and video engineer is Jack Harper with production imagery supplied by Llanelli Youth Theatre.
Cast members are Amirah Alabere, Tayla Baxter, Kyron-Ellis Bryan, Charlie Evans, Will Gray, Jake Harper, Robert Hart, Alysha Hornby, Chisenga Malama, Sandija Misika, Grace Muguo, Thomas Norris, Romy Payne, Oskar Puanecki, Ffion Roberts, Anna Rowbottom, Renae Samuels and Kelly Townsend.
It may be A Long Way To Tipperary but Curve is nearer by far and we recommend that you come and support this brave production by the drama students of De Montfort University Leicester.