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Review - Oh What a Lovely War

Southwark Playhouse Borough

Playing until: 9th December 2023

Review {AD-PR Invite}

Six actors take us through a musical journey through the First World War. The actors each take on different roles, including the personification of a country, soldiers, civilians and actual historical figures. Far from accurate portrayals, these are satirical and exaggerated characters to demonstrate the ridiculousness of the war, how miscalculations and pride led to the deaths of millions of men.

Oh What a Lovely War celebrates its 60th anniversary and embarks on a tour around the country. This musical starts in 1914, with different countries starting to take sides or desperately trying to remain neutral. The show portrays the optimism of the British people and government of how quickly Germany would be defeated. However, as the weeks turn into years, with the death toll mounting, optimism turns to a desperation to reclaim the pride of a nation no matter the cost. Through the numerous cheery and upbeat musical numbers and choreography, the audience is shown black and white photograph projection of the horrific living conditions in trenches, and the number lives sacrificed on certain dates without gaining any or minimal grounds.

Even though the musical spins a fantastical tale, the events that play out are grounded on hard truths, and the complete incompetency of the British generals, particularly Douglas Haig, who was so focused on staying the offense and caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of lives without gaining significant advancements or advantages over the German forces. However, although many will know of how horrific World War I was, it is doubtful that all of the audience members would know the intricate details of the various events. Even though an in-depth knowledge of history is not a pre-requisite, a complete lack of it would perhaps make it harder to conceptualise which part of the war the musical is referring to and become lost during these events.

This fantastic cast of young actors and musicians each take on an impressive number of roles in this production. Donning pierrots like the original, the actors are armed with immense enthusiasms and a myriad of instruments. The ensemble adapts quickly to both the characters they need to take on and the instruments they are required to play. While I originally expected that perhaps each actor would be responsible for an instrument, it quickly became apparent that these talented individuals are exceptionally flexible in their musical talents and are able to seamless transition from one to the next. While the entire ensemble works cohesively and elevate each other’s performances, Harry Curley deserves a special mention with his expressiveness and ability to draw in the audience’s attention. He and Euan Wilson are among the first actors to make their rounds around the auditorium to engage with the audiences as they begin to take their seats, priming them with what’s to come and creates a sense of excitement and eagerness for the show to begin.

Oh What a Lovely War is a satirical version of the events that took place in the first World War. While upbeat and humorous in tone, this musical never lets the audience to become too indulgent without giving them a flavour of the horrors that took place. Unlike many other theatre productions, there is no logical flow to the show, it is a clever interpretation of historical events in a fun and energetic way, paying tribute to the absurdity that is the First World War.


Developed by: Joan Littlewood’s Theatre Workshop, Charles Chilton, Gerry Raffles, and members of the original cast

Director: Nicky Allpress

Musical Director: Ellie Verkerk

Producer: Adrian McDougall, Blackeyed Theatre in association with South Hill Park Arts Centre

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