Today I was lucky enough to see and reflect upon a local production of Oh What A Lovely War by a local amateur group. It was made better by being shared with my partner who was able to make the evening. Despite being overly hot in the Arts Centre, it wasn’t a bad production given the demands of this semi-surreal play.
The Phoenix Players have something of a reputation for tackling worthy and challenging productions. Although as a group, their star may have waned a little it was a credit to their skills. Chosen to mark 100 years since the outbreak of the Great War this stretched the theatre and the available space rather more than the actors.
After watching it, I was struck with the disconnect I felt with the play. Was it the capability of the cast, the difference between the play and it’s better known film counterpart or the production values chosen by the Director and her team. After some thought, I came to the view it was none of the above !
What struck me was the lack of credibility of the leading characters – not the actors – the characters. In simple terms the dismissive view of life portrayed by the play’s characters would now be simply incredible.
This was perhaps the greatest insight I gained from the evening. If the characters (or more accurately caricatures) portrayed as army generals, field marshals and politicians were ever accurate – and I believe they were – they certainly wouldn’t be now.
Of course, I have tried to make allowances for the fact that the play originally produced by Joan Littlewood in the 30’s may have aged not the characters. However, whichever is the more accurate it’s refreshing to realise that we have moved so far from a conflict which robbed the world of a generation.
The finale was understated but immensely powerful. A stage washed in red light with two solitary soldiers with downturned rifles against a backdrop of one of the Commonwealth War Cemeteries. A welcome touch for me was that the backdrop contained markers for both English and German soldiers. Whilst the last post sounded and the poppies fell the curtain closed in silence. A brave and powerful production. I’m just so pleased to realise that this now feels so alien and impossible in today’s world.