Words by Theatre Workshop and Music by Theatre Workshop
Nuffield Theatre,
June 2000
Cast List

Notes on this performance

93. Oh What a Lovely War!

Everyone a star…

The usual routine of principals rehearsing on a Monday and the company on Wednesday was totally disrupted for Oh What a Lovely War! as, under Philip de Grouchy’s direction, everyone was both a principal and a member of the chorus and could be called for either evening or both. Principal auditions’ evening was also very different as Philip sat everyone around in a circle before getting them to perform unprepared in front of everyone else. Along with Martin Paterson, the MD, he was then able to allocate the various cameo-style parts.

With the exception of Mrs Pankhurst (played by Barbara Rayner), most of the ‘meaty’ parts were those of soldiers so Oh What a Lovely War! was a show that definitely favoured the men. In fact, they were involved in so many changes of uniform that it was necessary to set up their ‘changing room’ on stage directly behind the scenery. Everybody was dressed in Pierrot suits and then the appropriate hats, coats, weapons, etc., were added. The costumes were even made by the company (masterminded by Sylvia Wall) and many men learnt the basics of sewing during this production!

There were obvious concerns about putting on this show as it was essentially a drama with songs as opposed to an opera or musical, also there were only five roles for women so the 19 ladies involved were spread very thinly and, alarmingly, it was unlikely to break even – the initial draft budget even showed a loss and it was thought necessary to subsidise the production from the annual subscriptions and a barn dance.

The Echo reviewer certainly enjoyed the show (the names of the characters singled out have been added), ‘I thought it would be dated, that it would not have the same impact after nearly forty years but I was wrong. Oh What a Lovely War! remains an intensely powerful satire on the futility of war. Southampton Operatic Society used great imagination and skill in meeting the challenge of this ensemble piece.

A backdrop full of gaunt echoes of The Scream contrasted with cheerfully lit end-of-the-pier archways. Jokey adaptations of songs equally contrasted with stark statistics of carnage and real-life images of the horrors of the First World War’s trenches. The players performed a variety of cameo roles with vitality and insight. The audience could sneer at hideous xenophobic stereotypes and feel a true empathy with the soldiers of the front line.

Particularly strong in a fine cast were the portrayals of dogmatically stupid Field Marshal Earl Haig (David Jupp), the Pierrot Master of Ceremonies (Richard Peaty) and the Sergeant Major (Tony Austin). The society is to be congratulated on selecting such an entertaining and poignant piece.’

Although the original slides to help tell the story and give it added atmosphere were used, Oh What a Lovely War! took only £5900 at the box office and lost £3301 – a pity, as it was a show well worth seeing.

Terry O'Farrell

Photo of Opening

The Nations (led by Kaiser Terry Martin) march past the Master of Ceremonies (Richard Peaty)

Recruiting for Troops

Nichola McKinley, Carol Johnson and Gwen Moulster recruiting troops

Photo of Drilling

Sergeant Major Tony Austin drills the new recruits

Photo of Trenches

In the trenches: Colin Sly sings 'carols' to the amusement of Ronnie Maddams, Steve Dennis, Terry O'Farrell and John Miller (partly hidden)

Photo of David Jupp

David Jupp as Field Marshall Earl Haig

Photo of Troops

Into battle: Tony Austin, Mike Pavitt, Michael Sharpe, Richard Peaty, Jason Sly, Simon Pontin