A pierrot troupe, organised by a red-coated ringmaster, starts the proceedings with War Games, and as they unfold the audience is taken into the maelstrom of the Great War.
Littlewood’s message is clear – the futility and idiocy of war and military posturing – but it is still being interpreted as anti-patriotic by those militaristically inclined. It’s never been performed in Germany so we don’t know if it would evoke the same reaction (or how they feel in France or “plucky little Belgium.”)
The graduating performing arts students at Arts University Bournemouth spent the final days of their course in three performances of the show at Poole’s Lighthouse Theatre, accompanied by the musicians of Kokoro, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra’s contemporary music ensemble, under the direction of Mark Forkgen.
Directed by Kenneth Robertson with Clare Camble Hutchins in charge of the impressive choreography, the production swept its audiences into the madness, hopelessness, conviction and patriotic fervour of war.
With a chilling ticker-tape backdrop of statistics of death compared with territory gained, the relentless day after day, month after month, year after year “progress” belies the messages from the politicians and the generals.
Boys are shamed, seduced and excited into joining up, quickly to join their brothers and neighbours on a front line that swallows its inmates in mud and blood, while the officers, well behind the lines, continue with half-baked and ill-informed “plans” that have more to do with playground games than human life.
Oh What a Lovely War has its big scenes – the gossipy officers ball, the meeting of nations on a grouse moor to discuss the income from international arms trading, and the always unendurable Christmas in the Trenches scene, inspired by the true story of the German and English troops meeting and singing carols together on that one day.
The set, designed by Sylvain Perez-Jacobs, cleverly used the theatre’s potential, creating balconies and sidewalks while the orchestra played in the background.
The show opened with a parade of national leaders, all depicted as huge puppets (created at AUB by student Kate Maloney and her team).
One particularly impressive aspect of this ensemble piece was the absolutely perfect diction (something so often overlooked these days) allowing the young actors to clearly differentiate between their multiple roles, always in character and always in period.
One of the great problems for a reviewer of theatre schools is that as their courses end, young actors decide for one reason or another to change their names. That means that the performer you have followed through his or her course suddenly turns up as someone quite different. Several of the excellent cast of February’s Persuasion were just as impressive in this.
It is only right to name them all: Richard Alexander, Samantha Cobar, Matt Colyer, Lucinda Davidson, Lydia Dawson-Wilde, Tom Dillon, Ieuan Jeffcott, Eleanor Johnson, Michael Kingston, Emma Loveday, Callum McKeith, Ben Nelson, Florence Odumosu, Chris O’Rorke, Edward Parris, Georgia Riley, Nicola Stringfellow, James Talbot, Andzelika Vitis, Callum West, Jay Westaway and Daniel Wilkinson all put in impressive and memorable performances as they start out on their professional careers. Several are en route to the Edinburgh Fringe this summer.
Congratulations too to the costume designers and makers and backstage team.
This is a show that always packs an enormous emotional punch, leaving the audience perplexed, angry, amused and deeply saddened by the fact that we apparently never learn.