A talented cast brought to life all the heavy-duty irony of Oh! What a Lovely War, in the latest drama production at St Benedict's, Ealing, west London.
This theatrical chronicle of the carnage of the First World War (first performed in 1963 under the direction of Joan Littlewood) is told through songs, short episodic scenes and documents of the period, and is no ordinary piece. The talented cast rose to the challenge of balancing irony and bitter truths with music-hall comedy and singing.
With over 100 different characters, the play was written for a multi-role cast. The performers showed their versatility by switching rapidly between lower ranks, officers, and civilians, showing a range of perspectives from all the nations involved in the conflict. Sylvia Pankhurst's appeal for the world to come to its senses, and her words - " We are killing off slowly but surely the best of the male population" - contrasted starkly with Sir Douglas Haig's determination to continue sending thousands of men to the front.
The show's fifteen songs- including Goodbye Dolly Gray, Keep the home fire's burning and Pack up your troubles- were beautifully sung. The choreography, too, was superb, as military advancements, marching suffragettes, generals and washerwomen moved in turn across the stage.
All of these elements worked together to achieve Littlewood's original aim: to create a piece of theatre that audiences will view without becoming emotionally attached to individual characters, allowing them to engage with the political message of the play - the futility of war.
The show closed with a reprise of "And when they ask us, how dangerous it was, Oh, we'll never tell them, no, we'll never tell them", the beguiling sweetness of the music contrasting with a backdrop of final, sobering statistics: 10 million dead, 21 million wounded, 7 million missing.
Performances took place on February 1-3, 2018. The show was directed by Head of Drama Katie Ravenscroft.
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