Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

Giving bite to a centenary
cast of Oh What A Lovely War

The combatants lining up for a lovely war - and they'll all be home by Christmas

Oh What A Lovely War

The Nonentities

The Rose Theatre, Kidderminster


IN this centenary year commemorating the outbreak of the First World War, the Nonentities have presented a lively and thoroughly enjoyable recreation of Oh What A Lovely War.

This ensemble show was the creation of Joan Littlewood’s 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 Littlewood at the Theatre Royal in Stratford, East London.  

They explored the events of the Great War through a medley of songs and sketches  stitched together with projections with Newspanels 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 an so on. There is great variety of tone too: the solemn and emotional pathos of some moments is contrasted with the comical and the highly satirical.

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 andmale cast sardonic humour of the infantry 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’.

Men o' war: Sue Downing, Marika Farr, Lynn Ravenhill and Hannah Tolley

This is quite an ambitious undertaking for an amateur company. The cast are required to sing, to dance at times, to act a variety of roles and adopt a range of accents. It is an exciting challenge! The Nonentities are to be commended for embracing the challenge wholeheartedly and providing a rich and varied evening’s entertainment.

The show opened a bit slowly. The ‘Overture’ of First World War songs was intended to get the audience going but this enjoyed limited success. However the moment the cast burst onto the scene with the opening song the show came alive.

The singing by the ensemble was very good: they achieved a rich sound and some delightful harmonies.  The musical director has them well trained. There are a number of strong and delightful voices in the cast and the solos were almost all very strong, especially those delivered by the women.

With few lapses or exceptions the acting was good: at times a few speeches were difficult to decipher, for instance when the RSM is drilling the troops, but that is not so unrealistic in fact! There were some excellent performances; again the women were consistently strong.

The choreography was unambitious but simple and satisfying, the costumes were coherently conceived, the lighting very effective and the sound effects contributed fully and successfully to the creation of atmosphere. The show is composed of various sketcheswomen in cast and they varied at times in effectiveness. The grouse-shooting party scene early in Act Two was not as effective as the Mrs Pankhurst scene or the sketch with the Irish infantrymen, but the pace of the show and the powerful, emotive impact of some of the scenes kept the whole experience alive.

Women o' war: Sue Downing, Marika Farr, Lynn Ravenhill and Hannah Tolley

In the recruitment scene, effective use was made of the auditorium and indeed one luckless member of the audience, who was swept up into the army to earn the King’s shilling.

In the final scene the veterans sing about how, when asked about their experiences, ‘we’ll never tell them, no, we’ll never tell them’. The poppies on the screen and floating from the skies provide a moving moment of genuine pathos.

The direction of the show by Jen Eglinton is assured and consistent – she has done an excellent job of bringing all the diverse elements of the show together and the whole cast exude a sense of life, vigour and enjoyment.

This production began on a high note and will get stronger through the week; the company deserve full houses. Presented in a way that can appeal to a wide age range, it is a sobering reminder of the sacrifices of our forebears. To 14-06-14

Tim Crowe 


Home Reviews A-Z Reviews by affiliate