MusicalNorth East & YorkshireReview

Oh What a Lovely War – Darlington Hippodrome

Reviewer: Jennie Eyres

Book, Music and Lyrics: Joan Littlewood and Theatre Workshop

Director: Nicky Allpress

Joan Littlewood’s Oh What a Lovely War is not a show that is to everyone’s taste, which is entirely understandable. Now 60 years old, it is an unsettling array of vignettes that satirise the First World War and the huge juxtaposition between the lived experience of those fighting in the trenches and those making the strategic decisions. The lack of main characters to take the audience through the narrative is disarming and it means that they have to really listen, think and watch carefully to understand what is going on.

Regardless of whether you love the show itself or not, one thing about this revival is that it is beautifully directed. Director Nicky Allpress uses a clever combination of humour, poignancy and full force satire to both disarm and startle the audience in equal measure. The choice to have the cast mingling with the audience before the show starts and to be their own warm up act added a frisson of mischief and circus to the show before it had even properly begun. Movement Director Adam Haigh should be commended for the stylish and clever choreography throughout.

The cast of six are hugely talented. They can sing, play instruments and become different characters at the drop of a hat. The range of accents that Harry Curley alone demonstrates is outstanding – his natural presence onstage means that he has the audience with him in an instant. His performance is ably matched by Alice E Mayer whose facial expressions are fascinating and characterisation, particularly within the musical numbers, is excellent.

The silliness and clowning on stage contrasts starkly with the projections we see on the back curtain, and the mood darkens further as the show goes on. We see statistics of the thousands of soldiers killed in a matter of hours, the hundreds of thousands of lives lost in gaining a mere 100 yards, which make for uncomfortable reading. The scale of the loss of life is almost incomprehensible, but the message is very clear – this should have been the war to end all wars.

The choice not to mic up the cast has clearly been made both with the low-tech nature of the touring production in mind as well as it needing to feel like a travelling circus, but this choice did mean that some of the words and punchlines were lost, particularly when the cast were speaking in different accents. This is a real shame and contributed to a full five minutes of confusion at the beginning of the show when a lot happens very quickly but it is difficult to discern exactly what.

This production is a successful theatrical experience that, while not always comfortable, is slick, clever and will resonate long after the final bows have been taken.

Runs until 30th March 2024

The Reviews Hub Score

Dark, musical satire

Show More
Photo of The Reviews Hub - Yorkshire & North East

The Reviews Hub - Yorkshire & North East

The Yorkshire & North East team is under the editorship of Jacob Bush. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button
The Reviews Hub