Shocking, sharp and delightful - Oh! What a Lovely War comes to Scarborough's Stephen Joseph Theatre

Marking the 60th anniversary of Joan Littlewood’s epic anti-war musical, the award-nominated Blackeyed Theatre production of Oh! What a Lovely War brings the full horror of World War One to the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough.
Marking the 60th anniversary of Joan Littlewood’s epic anti-war musical, the award-nominated production of Oh! What a Lovely War is on at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough until Saturday March 9Marking the 60th anniversary of Joan Littlewood’s epic anti-war musical, the award-nominated production of Oh! What a Lovely War is on at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough until Saturday March 9
Marking the 60th anniversary of Joan Littlewood’s epic anti-war musical, the award-nominated production of Oh! What a Lovely War is on at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough until Saturday March 9

Conceived and developed by Joan Littlewood and her Theatre Workshop in 1963, Oh! What a Lovely War remains a classic of modern theatre, a fusion of timeless songs, razor-sharp satire and high jinks, offering a joyously scathing account of the First World War.

Whizz bangs explode, mustard gas floats over muddy, body-strewn trenches as the number of men – in their millions – who died for inches of mud at the battles of Loos, Ypres, Passchendaele and the Somme are projected on a screen above the stage.

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It is an element of the play that is both shocking and moving.

I am of the generation that was taught the horrors of the Great War – the war to end all wars – at school. I cried then as we were shown newsreels from the 1914 to 1918 conflict and I cried at the angry, sharp-as-a-bayonet’s-point, dark-humoured production.

The waste of life for so little gain is still unimaginable – and the lessons not learned, heartbreaking.

A group of strolling players presents the action in a series of vignettes – the cynical Lord Kitchener-led recruitment that blinded the country’s innocent youth with patriotic zeal – the stupidity of generals, the bravery of the Tommy – ‘lions led by donkeys’ – conscientious objectors, defectors and the class war still raging on the Home Front – all come in for a barrage of satirical observation.

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It is as though they are going from town to town, re-enacting the horrors from Flanders’ battlefields for residents starved of real news from the trenches.

The seven-strong ensemble perform the macabre, yet poignant, mix of drama and music – including Pack Up Your Troubles, It’s a Long Way to Tipperary, Roses of Picardy, Keep the Homes Fires Burning, I’ll Make a Man of Everyone of You, Goodbyee, They’ll Never Believe Me and the title song.

Characters roll in and out of focus as the scenes – connected only by the theme of war –offer opinions of the progress – or not – of the war from a dizzying array of perspectives.

The cast multi-role and play every musical instrument from keyboards to harmonica.

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With Oh! What a Lovely War you have to keep your wits about you – it is not a linear narrative and there is not one main character to lead you through the morass.

A cornerstone of modern musical theatre and one of the very greatest stage satires, Oh What a Lovely War delights and shocks. It was considered avant-garde when it was first stage and in the hands of Blackeyed Theatre, it has lost none of that freshness and strangeness.

With war raging in various parts of the world, the production is a reminder of how little we have learned, what a short distance we have travelled toward tolerance and acceptance and how fragile is world peace.

Oh! What a Lovely War is on at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, on Friday March 8 and Saturday March 9 at 7.30pm. There is a Saturday matinee at 2.30pm.

Tickets are available from the box office on 01723 370541 and online at www.sjt.uk.com