OH WHAT A LOVELY WAR
by Theatre Workshop, Charles Chilton, Gerry Raffles, and members of the original cast.
Haymarket Theatre To 23 October 2010.
Runs 2hr One interval.
Review Mark Courtice 21 Octobe.
Intelligent and satisfying production.
It’s intelligent programming to revive this play. Originally devised at Theatre Royal Stratford East in 1963 it still feels fresh and timely, especially at this time of year, lest we be tempted by distance to glorify the First World War.
Even now we are hearing the well-bred tones of the top brass, for whom manoeuvres are more about politics than battle, telling us that war is worth the price in blood and treasure. Using the power of music hall songs, hymns and carefully marshalled facts this show (here with the odd sympathetic cut) powerfully demonstrates how wrong they are.
In Richard Williams’ satisfying production a talented company of eight play and sing their way through the infectious score and play neat scenes that skewer the pompous asses who betrayed a generation, and celebrate the working classes who cheerfully lined up to make their sacrifice for Britain.
If it starts off a bit clinical, seeming like a theoretical picture of something that happened a long time ago, things soon get more involving as the pace (and fury) picks up. Effective moments include the church parade at which the Tommies reword the hymns of the Church Militant, which is powerfully acted and sung and played with immaculate timing. The famous scene when the German soldiers swap Christmas songs and presents with the Tommies is genuinely moving.
Nowadays the Theatre Workshop conceit of an end-of-the-pier show may mean little, so setting it here in a white box set (keeping the Pierrot costumes) makes sense. It’s all clean and white, making a contrast with the dreadful pictures of life in the trenches and the rolling headlines projected on the back wall, and making space for cleverly used silhouettes and back-lighting.
The neatly arranged score is supported by actors who can cover piano, violin, bass, ‘cello, tympani and clarinet as well as singing in tune. The company are generally young and energetic – just right to play the innocent cannon fodder, while Andy Rashleigh enjoys a pair of older bullies; the strutting, screaming Sergeant Major, and a splendidly asinine, political and deluded war-leader Haig.
The Pierrots: Jared Ashe, Philip Benjamin, Brett Brown, Jo Castleton, Rob Delaney, Adam Pettigrew, Anne-Marie Piazza, Andy Rashleigh.
Director: Richard Williams.
Designer: David Collis.
Lighting: Stephen Holroyd.
Musical Director Peter Readman.
Choreographer Kate Webster.