TAUNTON Thespians are marking the centenary of the end of the Great War with a production of Joan Littlewood’s anti-war musical satire Oh What a Lovely War, all this week ending on Sunday 11th November with a matinee performance.
It is an extraordinary play, which, when it opened at Stratford East 55 years ago, caused anger and shock at its approach to the subject. Still there are those who think it disrespectful to those who gave their lives. It always starts on a comic high note and ends with tears, no matter how the director brings the curtain down.
Mike Linham’s production for the Thespians is true to the original intention, set as an end-of-the-pier pierrot show in which the combatants, the politicians, the militants and the international businessmen emerge from the troupe and merge back in again in a seamless parade of laughter, song and needless death. It makes full and effective use of the whole auditorium, including bits not usually seen by the public.
It is strictly an ensemble piece, and everyone has a chance to shine. Particularly memorable in this energetic and thoughtful production are Pete Meredith’s Master of Ceremonies, Jack Ward’s incomprehensible Sergeant Major, Michael Gilbert’s Irish soldier, Jane Edwards’ suffragette, Martine Davies’s caller to arms, Alan Coles’s Field Marshall Haig, Torie Meredith’s nurse, Ben Williamson’s amazingly varied accents and Dominic Philpott’s exasperated young officers.
With music directed (and accompanied ) by Gibby Swaine and a busy backstage crew, this is production memorably marks the end of the Thespians’ own 90th anniversary. It continues nightly until Saturday 10th November, with a 4pm Sunday performance, already almost sold out.