THE true detailed realities of the appalling first world war carnage was unknown to Joe Public when Oh What a Lovely War first hit the stage in the early 60s.
In the in-between years, and particularly in the last year with the start of the commemoration of the First World War, the horrors have become clear cut. The true hell of the war to end all wars is finally and totally realised by all.
So what about the updated Oh What a Lovely War musical? In its entertaining values, does it remain wincingly shocking? Has it achieved additional relevance with the passing of time. The answer to both questions is “yes.”
Joan Littlewood was a theatrical icon and even now, years after her death, her work has total relevance and the deep ability to combine two factions – comedy and horror – and make them work in perfect harmony.
The idea of a first world war musical at first seemed incongruous. It was, in fact, an instant hit.
The production at Manchester Opera House was stunningly entertaining, totally enthralling and when the fun and laughter dies away, the audience is left with the horrendous war losses. It’s no laughing matter.
The show is all the better for being played in a low-key manner. It’s true, the bombs thunder through the theatre, and the uselessness of it all hits you in the face.
In a way, Oh What a Lovely War is, in part, an educational experience. And when there was laughter, it was tinged with guilt.
The cast was led by Ian Reddington and Wendi Peters (Formerly Coronation Street) who both shon along with a cast of playing many parts with consummate ease. Wendi’s voice is a show stopper.
Peppered with songs from WW1 – and goodness how familiar them remain – the show entertains whilst providing feasts of food for thought. The scene dealing with the Christmas truce was just one of many moving moments.
With superb projection of actual scenes and a device listing the losses as the war progressed added to the depth of this admirable piece.