ARTS University Bournemouth found a unique way to commemorate World War I – by producing Joan Littlewood’s great music theatre satire Oh What a Lovely War with students from the 2014 and now the 2018 performing arts courses.
The project was made more exciting by the involvement of Kokoro, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra’s contemporary music ensemble.
The second production, staged in the AUB film studio at Turbary Park, was directed by Ken Robertson with Kokoro’s director Mark Forkgen in charge of the music (and delighted to have actors with such fine voices) and Claire Camble-Hutchins of the movement.
The original production at Theatre Royal Stratford East set the action in a pierrot show, with its rough and ready circus razzmatazz, and that’s just how Ken Robertson chose to set up the studio, with an old time ticket booth at the entrance and performers applying white-face as the audience walked past.
As the ghastly progress of war is followed via ticker-tape statistics, the pierrot troupe performs its war games, with their arrogantly ill-informed officers, money-obsessed international businessmen eager only for the continuation of the conflict, cannon-fodder footsoldiers, proselyting recruiters, wives-at-home and suffragettes.
There are moments of high comedy and tear-jerking pathos as four long years are played out in songs, dances and vignettes.
This is an ensemble show, and each of the 21 graduating actors has a chance to make her or his big moment memorable. The clever staging involves the audience in a performance that utilises the studio’s wide open spaces, vertical as well as horizontal.
Outstanding in the excellent company were Lesley Havekost’s cheeky and diminutive MC, Heath Alexander’s chillingly stupid Haig, Toby Constad’s multiple roles, Ronnie Smith’s shooting party Briton, Isobel Thomas Steer’s showgirl and Samuel Grayson’s ghillie.
But the energy, the skills and the overwhelming pathos evoked are something of which every member of the cast and crew can be proud. This stunningly effective and important production will stay in the memory.