Review Oh What a Lovely War, Theatr Clwyd by Donna Williams

 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

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 this outrageously satirical production to Theatr Clwyd in Mold this April, and what a triumph it is, earning a much-deserved standing ovation on opening night.

Oh What a Lovely War was developed by Joan Littlewood and her ensemble at the Theatre Workshop way back in 1963 and is a satire based on World War I. You might be fooled in to thinking then, that this piece is surely outdated with its traditional war songs and sarcastic of-the-period humour, but how wrong you’d be! This musical has spanned the decades and is sadly more relevant now than we would wish to admit: the idea of war as a ‘game,’ the harrowing casualty counts displayed for all to see, the pompousness of the ‘higher ups’, hosting parties behind closed doors whilst young men fall at the front. This production exposes war as an oxymoron in itself- a laughable tragedy. We know how the Great War went, but we are still shocked and somewhat guilt-ridden when we go from a Sister Susie’s Sewing Shirts singalong with the cast, snap into the latest number of dead and wounded displayed on screen and the disgusting dismissal of these by those in charge as simply that, numbers.

The cast take us on a journey of emotions from the get-go. As we enter the auditorium, members of the cast are already in full swing- talking to the audience, passing round balloons, allowing us to play their tambourines and so on. Total theatre at its very best- we are already immersed in the action. Victoria Spearing and Naomi Gibbs’ design falls somewhere amid the original production’s use of Pierrot costumes and Richard Attenborough’s 1969 film version’s more literal use of military uniform, with a simple yet effective set which, at first, transports us to a circus tent complete with strong man and ringmaster, then on to a music hall venue with pianists and cabaret singers before heading to the trenches, the towns and cities of Britain and beyond.

The cast are flawless and not only take on several roles with a multitude of accents and characteristics (often only visualised with a small accessory such as a hat or a coat) but are also the ‘band,’ playing a variety of musical instruments throughout. They also provide the vocals for all songs as well as all sound effects. There are moments when it is hard to believe we are not hearing real gunfire- no recorded SFX needed. It would be unfair to single any cast member out as they all quickly proved to be triple-threat performers and told the story with incredible energy, excitement, and sentiment.

The direction, by Nicky Allpress, is superb with so many visually stunning elements. The contrast of these beautiful moments against the backdrop of the brutality of war is extremely powerful. Highlights include passionate versions of well-known melodies including Keep the Home Fires Burning, Roses of Picardy and And When They Ask Us, the infamousChristmas Truce in the trenches beginning with the British Expeditionary Forces hearing German troops singing carols and a cleverly staged generals’ Ball, during which the male cast dance with sequined gowns and take on the roles of the generals as well as their wives!

This production is pure entertainment from start to finish- aesthetically exquisite, perfectly cast and the ideal combination of hilarious and horrifying.

Oh What a Lovely War completes its run at Theatr Clwyd on April 27th, 2024. The tour will conclude at Cornerstone, Didcot on May 17th, 2024.

Recommended for age 11+

Running time: Approx 140 minutes (including interval)

Oh What a Lovely War | Theatr Clwyd


Tom Benjamin

Tom Crabtree

Harry Curley

Alice E Mayer

Chioma Uma

Euan Wilson


Director- Nicky Allpress

Musical Director- Ellie Verkerk

Movement Director- Adam Haigh

Orchestrator- Tom Neill

Set Designer- Victoria Spearing

Costume Designer- Naomi Gibbs

Lighting Designer- Alan Valentine

Projection Designer- Clive Elkington

Company Manager- Euan Wilson

Technical Stage Manager- Symon Culpan

Assistant Stage Manager/Swing- Elli Damarell

Set Construction- Russell Pearn

Properties- Chantal Addley

Producer- Adrian McDougall

Press- Chloe Nelkin Consulting

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