Theatre in Wales

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A timely reminder of the horrific reality and waste of war

Oh What a Lovely War

Clwyd Theatr Cymru , Theatr Clwyd, Mold , February-10-03
THERE could hardly have been a more appropriate time for a revival of Joan Littlewood's savage and poignant satire, Oh! What a Lovely War.

While the world waits on the brink of major conflict, Littlewood's 1960s musical indictment of the horror, pity and sheer waste of man taking up arms against man is both chilling and timely.

Set in an early 20th-century pierrot show, complete with hammy turns and hackneyed songs, it rapidly moves from comedy to pathos with a re-enactment of war games to show how World War I began and developed.

National stereotypes are evoked, jingoistic emotions are played on, and what begins as a comic promenade in a Sarajevo park, where a shot rings out, moves into mass mobilisation and unimaginable slaughter.

Littlewood, who died last September, based the show on a series of authentic World War I songs recorded by the BBC in the early '60s, but added her own unique ingredients in the form of satire and irony.

The result was then, and is in this fresh production, to summon up anger and sympathy for that lost generation of young men: lions led into battle by donkeys.

Tim Baker directs an excellent cast with a strong Welsh bias, many of whom are familiar faces to Mold audiences.

Lynn Hunter, who won plaudits as the nurse in last season's Romeo and Juliet, is excellent in the key role as the pierrot's Master of Ceremonies; a sort of Good Old Days host, cross-dressed in immaculate white tie and tails.

Jane Quinn, Kate Pinell, Catrin Rhys and Sally Evans play a variety of roles, including personifications of nation states, nurses, staff officers' wives and mill girls waiting for news at home.

Quinn's voice in particular is powerful and evocative of the era when the message from women was, "We don't want to lose you, but we think you should go."

Among the men, Dylan Williams deserves special mention but the entire company is excellent, playing musical instruments, singing, dancing and acting through a succession of quick changes.

Mark Bailey's design includes a gold painted proscenium arch with tasselled crimson curtains to evoke a fin-de-siecle feeling of pre-1914 life, and a series of cards on a stageside easel illustrate the deadly inexorability of the progress of the war, measured not in land won but in lives lost.

It was significant that a group of young students in the Mold audience laughed in places where older people, whose parents and grandparents fought and died in 1914, fell silent.

Littlewood's vision provided a compelling lesson the world should never forget about the horrific reality and waste of war.

Reviewed by: Western Mail arts pages

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