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MyShrews Reviews: Oh What a Lovely War at Theatre Severn
06 Feb 2024

Blackeyed Theatre brings a major revival of 'Oh What a Lovely War' to Theatre Severn this week to mark the 60th anniversary of this epic anti-war musical. Review by David Ballinger. 

It’s been more than 40 years since I last saw a production of Oh What a Lovely War – and then it was a school show with a big cast of performers and musicians. Since then, it seems to have gone a little out of fashion as a production.

But now Blackeyed Theatre has brought theatre pioneer Joan Littlewood’s musical creation back to the stage to mark its 60th anniversary, bringing the First World War battlefields to Shrewsbury’s Theatre Severn for a short run this week.

And with conflicts springing up across the globe and talk of a Third World War and conscription making the news once more, it couldn’t be more relevant.

In contrast to that school production all those years ago, this one features just six performers who take on all the roles and play a multitude of instruments throughout.

Oh What a Lovely War cast pic

All credit to Christopher Arkeston, Tom Crabtree, Harry Curley, Alice E Mayer, Chioma Uma and Euan Wilson for taking up the challenge with aplomb.

They are all superb, mingling with the audience before the start – be prepared for a bit of audience participation with some red balloons to get you in the mood – and keeping up the energy throughout.

The production follows Littlewood’s insistence on the players being Pierrots, and the setting is like a circus tent. Yet it seamlessly transforms into the trenches on the battlefields of France as the farce and tragedy of the war plays out.

Many of the songs are familiar, taken from the Music Hall of the time, and there’s even the chance of a sing-a-long for the audience with Sister Susie’s Sewing Shirts.

The fast-paced action as the war unfolds plays out against a backdrop which includes a projection which highlights in stark numbers the human tragedy of the conflict.

It manages to strike that balance between the humour and comedy of the performance by the excellent cast with the pathos of the subject matter.

Even 60 years on from its conception, Oh What a Lovely War is still a thought-provoking satire on the futility of war. And all the more relevant with the times we are living in once more. 

The production continues at Theatre Severn tonight (Tuesday) and with a matinee and evening show tomorrow (Wednesday). It’s well worth look.

Oh What a Lovely War is at Theatre Severn Tuesday, February 6th & Wednesday, February 7th at 7.30pm, with a Wednesday matinee at 2.30pm. Tickets £19.50-£27.50 HERE