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Oh What a Lovely War

Joan Littlewood

Blackeyed Theatre Company

Theatr Clwyd, The Mix

April 23-27, 2024, 2 hrs

The cast of Blackeyed Theatre's 60th anniversary production of Oh What s Lovely War
The cast of Blackeyed Theatre's 60th anniversary production of Oh What s Lovely War

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This production is a timely revival to mark 60 years since Joan Littlewood's iconic production, which actually celebrated its 60th anniversary last year - the show has been touring since last September.

The original Oh What a Lovely War aimed to capture the futility of warfare in World War I - waged by generals with little clue what they wanted to achieve and how it would affect the millions of volunteer and conscripted soldiers being manipulated by them. "Lions led by donkeys" was the famous phrase.

This production did this admirably, yet was less successful in capturing the blind devotion to King and country that saw millions take the King's shilling merely because everyone else was doing so.

The cast - Tom Benjamin, Tom Crabtree, Harry Curley, Alice E Mayer, Ghioma Uma and Euan Wilson, each playing multiple roles - is excellent. They are full of energy and enthusiasm and demonstrate copious talent, moving seamlessly from acting to playing various instruments. The team shows great imagination and sensitivity, interacting strongly with the audience. Stand out moments include the rendition of Keep the Home Fires Burning by Gioma Uma, and the ramping-up of tension as the show tells the events of the famed football match in the trenches between opposing forces in 1914.

It helps if you have a working knowledge of the events of World War 1. The action is so fast-paced at times that some of it is hard to follow, and while the statistics, cleverly displayed at the entrance to a trench, are shocking, sometimes they are hard to read.

The roots of this production lie in the original production, improvised by Littlewood and her famous company Theatre Workshop. The action here captures the not-terribly-subtle satire of the original, with the same clown costumes, make-up and end-of-the-pier-show style that was still popular in the 1960s, and the same nostalgic songs - It’s a Long Way to Tipperary and I Don’t Want to be a Soldier among them - to increase the pathos.

Even if you don't pick up every last nuance, this play is an excellent watch, no less effective at highlighting the savagery of war and the seemingly inconsiderate attitudes of the powers that be than it was 60 years ago. It leaves the audience in no doubt about its intentions.

More info and tickets here


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