Adieu La Vie

cast of oh what a lovely war

Oh What A Lovely War

Malvern Festival Theatre


 OH What A Lovely War was the ensemble creation of the Theatre Workshop in 1963, not the product of a single writer, but the fruit of improvisations by a troupe of actors under the guidance of Joan Littlewood. 

They explored the events of the Great War through a medley of songs and sketches  stitched together with projections, with news panels that move the story along chronologically, and that statistically remind us of the horrendous casualties resulting from the obstinate and inhumane strategies pursued by ‘the top brass’.

The show provides us with a variety of contrasted perspectives: the ordinary soldiers in the trenches, the politicians in Westminster, the generals, the Germans, the women at home etc. There is great variety of tone too: the solemn and emotional pathos of some moments is contrasted with the comical and the highly satirical.

There is plenty of humour, but it is mostly dark, black or bitter. The songs and dances are so often lively and jaunty, but these are in poignant contrast with the horrific facts and realities of the war that provided the greatest number of casualties and some of the worst conditions experienced in wartime.

The imagery of the play is varied: the offending limb of the German soldier used to prop up the parapet, the fruit thrown at Mrs Pankhurst as she makes her pacifist speech, the rowing, punting and swimming along the river and the ‘football on a stick’ effect on the Christmas Day match epitomise the creativity, humour and colour of the show.

The satire is overall the dominant tone in the piece: the arrogance of the politicians and ruling classes of Europe, and the total insensitivity and blind obstinacy of the generals are exposed with biting satire, compared to the earthy and sardonic humour of the infantry who are warmly treated, and the down-to-earth practicality of ordinary women in the streets of Britain with their occasionally risqué humour. A foreign observer comments in Act Two: the British infantry ‘fight like lions but are led by donkeys’.

The Great War was ironically billed as the ‘war to end all wars’ – however it did result in a change in the attitude to national leaders who led the continent into war; it also bred a new attitude amongst a large number of nations to the ways in which warfare should be waged. The notion of war crimes emerged and was further developed through the Second World War.

Every aspect of this show was done well! The music, the choreography, the colourful and varied costumes, the lighting effects, the overall design and conception were of the highest standard. The design brought the show into the auditorium visually and the cast came out among the audience and engaged with them from the outset. This is a long show but the pace and liveliness of the show was first class and maintained a strong sense of momentum.

The cast were talented!  They executed the singing as soloists, in unison or in harmony very well, the dancing was delightful to watch and the projection was good even if a few words got lost.  The effective use of lighting coupled with powerful sound effects was brilliant and poignant.

In terms of poignancy, the scenes where the cast fell silent and looked up at the projected statistics of casualties or the pictures of troops in the trenches were particularly moving.

This was a great production!  Having seen ‘Oh What A Lovely War’ in various forms a few times, I was delighted to be treated to a version that was very faithful to the original script but also developed it in creative and relevant ways. This had the effect of bringing the hard-hitting satire to the audience not only relative to the events at the beginning of the twentieth century. ‘Adieu la Vie’ – war is the antithesis of life. The relevance to our world a century later was powerfully communicated. To 21-02-15

Tim Crow



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