Oh What A Lovely War by Joan Littlewood's Theatre Workshop
Performed during 1994
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Reviewed by Donald Madgwick for The Croydon Advertiser
This famous show, devised for Stratford East by Joan Littlewood and her team, is supposed to use the convention of the pierrot troupe to enact the unimaginable horros of the first world war.
But it is first and foremost a director's piece, and each one must find his or her own balance between the serious and the blackly farcical.
Under Coulsdon's Mike Brown, there is not a pierrot costume in sight, though Tim Young genially acts as MC to what might be a travelling company.
Chris Argles, as Field-Marshal Hague, crisp, disciplined, stubborn, an angel of death, is in uniform, which marks him out from the standard male attire of plain green.
This is a tidy production, with some good individual cameos, but it seems to me to lack a sharp focus. No powerful commitment fuels it. One feels neither rage at the human follies it depicts nor the ironical detachment distance brings.
It must be said, however, that its impact is largely dictated by modesty of means. Those mad messages of casual slaughter need to be hammered into the brain in an endless parade of light, not dimly projected on a fuzzy screen not always even easy to read.
Nevertheless, there are some effective scenes by the alphabetically listed cast of a dozen gents and four ladies.
Pride of place goes to the bayonet drill scene, which indeed generally seems to bring out the best in amateur productions. Could it be that we British specialise in sadistic NCOs?
High spots include the Christmas fraternisation, the conference between mutually uncomprehending Allies, and the condescending lecture by a bone-headed officer to the front line troops.
The flavour of the songs is nicely captured, with some fine contributions by the ladies, and Mark Taylor helps things along on piano; but I do mourn the omission of Roses of Picardy, to my mind the most poignant of all those haunting melodies that memorialise a savage and bitter conflict.
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