Oh! What A Lovely War at New Theatre Royal

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Joan Littlewood’s Oh What A Lovely War is a curious piece of theatre, the mix of vaudeville comedy style skits and the horrors of The Great War mean that if the piece isn’t handled properly it can all too easily become a disjointed mess.

Thankfully Blackeyed Theatre have gone for the less-is-more approach, with the whole piece being performed by a versatile quintet of actor-musicians. They constantly swap instruments and characters and keep everything going at breakneck pace throughout the largely comedic first act aided by little more than a few hats, some jackets, a frock or two and a pair of large moustaches.

Whilst the cast are all excellent here, Robert Harding’s sergeant-major, a whirlwind of off the cuff ad-libs about the stage being bigger than expected mixed with barked insults at his troops and peppered with shouty gibberish, stands out.

Act two contains the shows heart, including a glorious Christmas exchange between British and German troops in their trenches and culminating in a heartwrenching acapella rendition of ‘And When They Ask Us’, but it also has its share of laughs, not least in the ballroom scene where the use of scenery is ingenious.