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Oh What A Lovely War by Joan Littlewood and the Theatre Workshop

posted 9 Nov 2014, 07:53 by Alison Woodward
Wycliffe Drama Group
“Oh What a Lovely War!”
In Britain, in the 1960s, having just come through World War 2, people rarely spoke of the previous one “The war to end all wars” (only it wasn’t, of course). It seemed forgotten. Even the famous Christmas Truce, when soldiers on both sides played football in No Mans Land, had almost become a myth. Then in 1963 Joan Littlewood and her Theatre Workshop produced what could be described as a musical drama or a documentary musical telling the story of WW1 through a concert party playing the War Game. It used poignant bitter satire, and was both heartbreakingly sad and very, very funny. The songs and jokes were original ones of the time, the soldiers themselves had invented them.
“Oh What a Lovely War!” is not an easy show to produce, requiring, as it does , a large cast of multi talented performers who can sing, act, dance and even play leapfrog! However The Wycliffe Drama Group is never daunted, and Director Richard Hill did not even audition the 26 performers who wanted to be in this production. Everyone was used and with a backstage crew in charge of the special effects, the whole company enthusiastically worked together to present an excellent show, to mark the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War.
It took the audience on a roller coaster ride. Lots of laughter, of course, at the soldiers’ brave black humour but many tears too. The ending, as the poppies fell and the cast sang “We’ll Never Tell Them”, was mesmerising and moving.
An unforgettable evening. Thank you WDG, you never disappoint.

Vivien Window

Joan Littlewood’s ‘Oh What a lovely War’ is ‘documentary musical’ made up of songs and sketches from the First World War, which contrast the terrible conditions in the trenches with the jingoism at home, frightening class divide of the time and callous attitude of Military commanders to the appalling loss of life. Wycliffe Drama Group have been lucky to be one of the few amateur groups to be allowed to perform this highly appropriate piece on the hundredth anniversary of the start of WW1.
Richard Hill has gathered a talented cast who work well together to make this a highly enjoyable and moving production. There are many strong acting performances, particularly from the soldiers in the trenches who combine humour with the grim reality of warfare.
There are well-known songs including ‘Pack up your troubles’ ‘Roses of Piccardy’ and ‘Goodbye.. ee’ and many soldiers songs from the trenches, such as ‘When this lousy war is over’ which make the audience laugh and cry in equal measure. The cast portray the humour of the early scenes well and the pathos is all the greater as they are careful not to overplay the tragedy of the later scenes and songs. The songs are well accompanied by piano & drums
The simple set is very effective, with screens which display shocking headlines and statistics of casualties from the time and a sandbagged area which forms a trench and brings scenes of war up close to the audience. These are used to good effect especially in the touching scene where opposing armies celebrate Christmas Day together.
This is an excellent, thought provoking production with great songs and much humour  where you will be shocked by the slaughter of the time.

Kate West