OH WHAT A LOVELY WAR
at King Edward VI School Chelmsford
Walking-wounded, conchies, Women of Britain, Tommy and Fritz all converged on the Big Top at the End of the Pier for the songs, dances and jokes that make up Oh What A Lovely War.
James Russell's production kept most of the music, much of the dialogue from the 1963 Stratford East original, which in its turn drew on the songs of the period, and the words spoken and written by the man and woman in the street, the poor bloody infantry and the officers behind the lines.
The over-arching concept was one of the great strengths of this ambitious show. The ticket booth, the side shows [Try Your Strength, Wheel of Fortune], the band in their patriotic gazebo, and the stage itself, with its suggestion of the circus tent and its Flags of All Nations. Not to mention the biggest ticker screen, bringing ironic news of lives lost and ground gained.
The company were in Pierrot garb throughout, making the military moments strangely moving – putting on the tin helmets, for instance, at the end of the recruiting song, here featuring a septet of Sirens.
There were many strong scenes: the gas attack, the car, the bilingual rumours, the lively chorus at the top of Act Two, the French and German officers each reflecting on the hostilities, the “interpreter” farce, the Christmas truce, the platoon annihilated as the oblivious C.O. spouts his empty pep talk.
Some great individual performances, too: the slightly sinister Master of Ceremonies, the US Arms Dealer, the tap dancers in Itchy Koo, Ivor Novello's Keep The Home Fires Burning.
But it was very much an ensemble piece; all the performers on the stage all the time, which has many advantages, though it does mean there can be no effective entrances.
So no names, no pack drill for these twenty-two Pierrots. It was good to see a number of survivors from the various regime changes in KEGS Drama, too, loyal veterans of productions past.
In 1911, KEGS' Edwardian actors did Sheridan's farce “St Patrick's Day, or The Scheming Lieutenant”. Did any of those stage Irish suspect that they were to be The Lost Generation, Doomed Youth ? It was good that their successors a century on paid tribute to the Fallen, both in the programme and in a roll call behind the poignant finale.
The Oh What A Lovely War Company, directed by James Russell with Captain Worrall as Music Director, was:Ayokunle Adekeye