Review: Oh What A Lovely War at Darlington Hippodrome

Review: Oh What A Lovely War at Darlington Hippodrome

Oh What A Lovely War

Darlington Hippodrome

28th March 2024

Oh What A Lovely War by Joan Littlewood started out as an improvised piece created through her Theatre Workshop back in 1963. It is no less poignant, amusing and thought provoking in 2024 than when it was first devised and presented. To make head nor tail of what is going on, it does help if you have an understanding of events and the main players before and during The Great War of 1914-1918 but I am sure Littlewood’s critique of the absurdity of war would shine through regardless. Never shy to make her left wing feelings known in her work, it often got her into trouble and even investigated by the secret service in her pomp. 

For this particular work she won a nomination for a Tony Award for best direction and became the first woman to be nominated in the award’s history. 

This is very much an ensemble piece with the six strong actors playing multiple roles against the backdrop of a very imaginative set which evoked music hall and circus vibes and was designed by Victoria Spearing. Coupled with a lighting design by Alan Valentine the audience had no difficulty in imagining the many places the journey of the story takes us. 

I did not see the original production of Oh What A Lovely War but I imagine that this production is as close to what the brilliant mind of Littlewood intended replete with Pierrot make up and some very grotesque caricatures and facial expression – a ludicrously unintelligible Sergeant Major and wickedly lampooned politicians and high ranking officials of the armed forces of several countries. 

The cast of this production are on stage well before the actual production starts performing circus tricks, engaging the audience and generally enjoying themselves – this familiarity continues throughout the performance and adds to an interactive feel to the show which belies its more cutting and satirical undercurrent. The surtitles throughout the piece are also a stark reminder, lest we forget, about the appalling human cost of this conflict in particular.

The costumes, designed by Naomi Gibb reflect the circus theme and a plethora of quickly grabbed props and accoutrement add to the characters this hard working troupe effortlessly portray. In addition to playing numerous characters each, the performers also play all of the musical instruments festooned around the stage at the start of the show. 

For anyone who studies theatre then one could write several theses on Oh What A Lovely War alone and still have time to write a dissertation on how it was devised and originally produced. It is a seminal piece of theatrical story telling and satire that stands the test of time and still leaves an audience feeling uncomfortable at the end of the performance. 

As it is very much and ensemble piece, I am loathed to name people for fear of getting it wrong or missing someone out. However, one performer this evening worked their absolute socks of in a masterclass of physical performance, character and accent work, musical excellence and some fantastic vocals. My star in a galaxy of amazing performers this evening goes to the immensely talented Harry Curley who is surely a name to watch out for in the future. 

Oh What A Lovely War’s short run at The Darlington Hippodrome ends on 30th March which is this Saturday – so if you want to see some amazing performers acting out a wonderful piece of satirical theatre that will amuse as much as it will put you through the emotional wringer – then get your boots on and do not not hang about. 

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