Oh What A Lovely War!
Soulpepper Theatre Company
Written by Joan Littlewood, Theatre Workshop & Charles Chilton
Directed by Albert Schultz
Musical Direction by Marek Norman - see full cast list below
The Young Centre, Toronto - continues to April 10
The horrible conditions suffered by soldiers, the naive assertions by political figures of a quick and easy victory and general stupidity of the upper echelons who remain safely behind the battle lines, the cold and callous profiteering as whole nations bleed and lie in ruins - sound familiar? The study of history is often "justified" by saying that what we learn, we won't then repeat, but more often than not, serves to underline just how little we have learned. Oh What A Lovely War was written in 1963 about WWI - the War to End All Wars - but its obervations, sadly, still ring loud and clear today.
Playwright Joan Littlewood, a visionary largely credited with giving birth to modern British theatre, conceived of the project for her remarkable Theatre Workshop company in London, as irreverent and above all entertaining even as it takes a clear eyed look at the subject. Her focus is on the stories of the common soldiers as they suffered, and the show trips along from musical interlude to song and dance to more and often less serious vignette at a rollicking pace. It's brought to life by a large ensemble cast of incredibly talented performers who nimbly switch from drama to comedy to song to playing instruments without a misstep. The laughs are plentiful even as the darker truths sting, and even if it's through your great-grandma, you'll recognize songs like Pack up Your Troubles in the Old Kitbag, It’s a Long Way to Tipperary and Keep the Home Fires Burning. Musical direction by Marek Norman virtually flawless
The multi talented performers are aided and abetted by imaginative staging and highly detailed costuming, (by Ken MacKenzie & Lorenzo Savoini respectively). The base costume, if you will, was a pure white clownsuit (the laundry!) befitting the nature of the project, replaced or embellished on occasion to change into and out of a raft of characters from soldier to politician to general or damsel waving - and urging on - the boys good-bye in a way that keeps an engaging visual flow. As a tribute to its entertainment value, I was actually quite surprised to find I'd spent about 2 and a half hours in the theatre (with an intermission). (Image is of Karen Rae).
The numbers are staggering - 10 million dead, 21 million wounded, 7 million missing, and 21,000 Americans who became millionaires by supplying the goods and services that prolonged the misery (although the Americans were by no means the only nation to do so!) Our high tech modern wars claim to reduce civilian casualties, but then don't tell us the actual numbers... as Oh What A Lovely War reminds us as it bounces along, it's a part of the human experience that certainly doesn't serve us well.
Cast: Ins Choi, Tatjana Cornij, Oliver Dennis, Raquel Duffy, Ryan Field, Michael Hanrahan, Alison Jutzi, George Masswohl, Gregory Prest, Doug Price, Karen Rae, Mike Ross, Jason Patrick Rothery, and Brendan Wall. (Image is of Brendan Wall, Oliver Dennis & Gregory Prest.)
Image of Joan Littlewood from Joan's Book: The Autobiography of Joan Littlewood. London: Methuen.
Production Photos by Cylla von Tiedemann, courtesy of Soulpepper.
Also on view at the Young Centre - The Aleph - what sounds like a very interesting theatrical collaboration and workshop performance series.