Music & Arts | Posted 07.12.2014

Oh What a Lovely War!

This year’s major production at Stonyhurst was Oh What a Lovely War, a theatrical chronicle of the horrors of the First World War told through songs and documents of the period. It was directed by Head of Drama, Miss Laura Dixon, in commemoration of the centenary of the start of the First World War.

This was one of the most ambitious productions undertaken at Stonyhurst in recent years, challenging the cast to the utmost. The play required them to balance irony and satire with music-hall comedy and singing.

First performed by Theatre Workshop under the direction of Joan Littlewood in 1963, it was acclaimed by audiences and critics, and is no ordinary piece. The text is structured in two acts with no specific scenes, and comes with specific instructions set by Joan Littlewood herself; these include a minimal use of props and costumes, the starkness of the stage, the use of the projection screen and, perhaps most notably, pierrot clown costumes. The pierrots represent all the soldiers, women and humanity affected by the First World War, and enhance the message that war is a ‘farce’. All of these elements work together to achieve Littlewood’s aim- to create a piece of theatre that audiences will view without becoming emotionally attached to individual characters, allowing them to engage with the political message of the show – the futility of war.

With over 130 different characters, the play was written for a multi-role cast; the performers showed their versatility by taking at least two parts each. There were some very impressive solo and ensemble performances and the whole cast worked together extremely well.

The names of the 142 soldiers from Stonyhurst who were killed in action were included in the programme, together with a poppy, which members of the audience were invited to place on the War Memorial at the end of the evening.