Oh What a Lovely War!

Date 15th November 2014
Society Torrington Players
Venue The Plough, Torrington
Type of Production Musical Comedy
Director Robert Barber
Musical Director Jan Baker


Author: Ian Goodenough

I hold my hands up to the fact I have never seen 'Oh What a Lovely War' before (to which most folk seem shocked!). Unfortunately the overriding impression that I got from those people was a negative one, leaving me with an expectation of a dated, dirge-like parading of war songs from a cast dressed in perfectly researched period uniforms.

Fortunately I always like to form my own opinion and so I eagerly arrived at the theatre and proceeded to have a fantastic night, watching a show that was funny, satirical and moving. On top of that this had been more than just a simple 'putting on a show' exercise. Accompanying the project was an exhibition of objects, photos and stories researched and collated from the area, painting a picture of the effect 'The Great War' had on the locals. It also included an outreach to the local schools that resulted in special performances and inclusion of students work in the exhibition. A fantastically well thought out project that truly demonstrates the part amateur theatre companies can play in their communities.

Supporting the production was another community group, the choir, who set the atmosphere from the moment we walked into the auditorium through the ‘dugout tunnel’. Their harmonies and general strong vocals were a key part of the performance, not only supporting the onstage performers (who were a mixture of singing talent), but featuring as an integral part of the evening. But back to the performance and my general ‘astoundedness' and the fact I spent a good 10 minutes with my jaw on the floor wondering 'what the *#%*' was going on! 

The production had been staged along the lines of the original 1963 production which stripped away the identities of the players by dressing them as Pierrot Clowns and making them the puppets for the cynical and disillusioned messages that hindsight breeds so efficiently. It completely captivated me and successfully drew me into the fast-paced, satirical world of Generals, Tsars, corporate fat cats and the poor Tommy at the bottom of the pile.

Lynchpin of the piece is the lead Pierrot, who played her part wonderfully, delivering a character that was strong and seductive (putting me very much in mind of Cander and Ebbs 'MC' in the equally satirical 'Cabaret'). Those audience members with sharp eyes will have seen her slowly plucking off the pom-poms from the front of her costume as the casualties mounted and as the ‘war game’ drew to a close she was still the focus of our attention, as her lifeless body was sprinkled with poppy-petals in the dramatic finale.

I must say that I find it difficult to single out anyone else as the whole cast working in such a cohesive manner. Even when they were waiting for their next bit they were still in plain sight, sitting around the edges of the stage. This would have been the perfect time to fall into the trap of becoming bored and distracted, but throughout they were still actively engaged in the action in front of them.

Their combination of comic satire and poignant, emotional scenes of frustration and hope were portrayed by a cast who should have a very proud (and very talented) director to look back over the achievement. I can imagine many societies presented with the pitch, that they will be running around dressed as clowns to highlight the irony of war, might have balked, but Torrington Players have never been afraid of taking on a challenge (for which they should be applauded!).

Having said I can’t pick anyone else out, when we got the the end of the show were were treated to a reprise of ‘Keep the Home Fires Burning’ from a young pierrot whose voice would have melted the iciest of hearts. She brought a lump to the throat and a tear to many an eye in the audience that evening.

The simple use of triangular blocks made for an interesting stage, that caused the audience and cast alike to use their imaginations far more effectively than if they had be given a more realistic, but lower-budget set. Surrounded by camouflage netting, these blocks were flipped, flopped and spun into different configurations, as required by the cast, making for a very effective and modern stage.

Supporting the action on the stage was a large screen, upon which was projected the ‘facts and figures’ to lend a sobering subtitle to the humorous antics taking place in the ‘main ring’. Although this wasn’t the slickest element of the show, it certainly elicited the appropriate amount of gasps and muted whispering as horrifying statistic followed horrifying statistic, reminding us all of the atrocious situation the world faced (and would face again).

Thank you to the cast, crew and committee of Torrington Players for introducing me to ‘Oh What a Lovely War’ in such a exciting fashion. This was a great show and one you should all be proud to have been a part of.