Oh What a Lovely War!

Date 12th October 2018
Society Thurrock Courts Players
Venue Thameside Theater, ~Grays
Type of Production Musical
Director Vic Gray
Musical Director Luke Coldham
Producer Martyn Williams


Author: Tessa Davies

I can understand why Thurrock Courts Players chose to do this play with music, it struck some emotive chords for some of the members and the timing was good with Armistice Day approaching.   However, it is a show that needs a strong cast across the board and, although some of the cast were excellent, I got the distinct impression that some of the others were struggling to come to terms with the concept of the show.

Originally produced and directed by Joan Littlewood, the script was developed in a workshop environment.  This works well when the actors involved in that workshop are performing the piece as they have a vested interest in how it works.  Unfortunately, such script development rarely transfers to a fully coherent script for other actors to perform. 

The setting of the play was a traditional Pierrot show and the cast were the members of that troupe of performers.    As they switched from these characters to portray the ones in the story, there was a disconnection that slowed the pace of the show.    Joan Littlewood is quoted (in the programme) with saying that she wanted the audiences to leave the theatre laughing at the “vulgarity of war” but the comedic element of the show was largely missing.  Instead we were left thoughtful and rather offended by the attitudes of the principal characters in this story.

This production was good in parts and less so for the rest of the time.  The use of a screen to tell the statistics and news of the day, which is an integral part of the script, works well but only if the audience can read it!  Having the screen at the back of the stage and with rostra in front of it, meant that there were times when we couldn’t see the information that was being shown.  I appreciate that this was the traditional way to do it, to keep it in period, but I would have preferred to be able to see the content, so I could relate it to the action on stage.  Using the TV screens at the side of the pros would have given us a better view, although not in keeping with the period of the play!

The pace of the show was uneven which didn’t help in understanding what was being portrayed.  It is a series of vignettes and the cast had to play many characters which gave it a rather stilted feeling.  The cast was not that large (20) but the character list ran to 106 parts!  So, trying to follow and comment on individual performances is very difficult.   Luke Coldham, as MC and the MD of the show, commanded the stage when he was on and his narration did help to bring the disparate parts of the show together.  The ladies were generally good with lively and characterful performances.  One or two of the male characters were strong although I did find the stuttering of one character particularly irritating and made his dialogue almost impossible to understand.   The singing was a bit tentative at times, reflecting that this company does not, often, tackle music in their plays.  Some of the solo songs were, however, excellent.

I thought that the Pierrot costumes were a bit apologetic.  The ladies’ dresses were lovely and teamed with white tights and black shoes, worked, really, well.  However, the men’s costume was a bit too simple and, for me, failed to give the impression of a Pierrot troupe.  The addition of proper pom poms might have made a difference and the use of Pierrot hats at the beginning would have been a good addition.

Lights, sound and special effects worked well and, overall it was a thought provoking and interesting performance.  Thank you for inviting me.