REVIEW: Oh What a Lovely War at Cambridge Arts Theatre

Oh What a Lovely War

Oh What a Lovely War - Credit: Archant

Joan Littlewood’s musical satire was a gigantic hit in 1963. Richard Attenborough’s film in 1969 got a review in the London Evening Standard with the headline: “Oh what a lovely film!”

Today, the play still has resonance. We see the fat profiteers from America and Europe who relish in the conflict because they are getting richer by the day through arms sales. No change there.

We see Wendi Peters as an Edwardian woman trying to convince a crowd that Bernard Shaw is right when he says no one can win a war. She says that as early as 1915 even the Germans would have liked peace but there were too many people that it didn’t suit.

You can’t help wondering who really benefited from the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan. That might be what Joan Littlewood would be working on now - not a conflict that we all know now was a con trick.

Overall, this production is dull. Despite some beautiful singing and a few laughs at the beginning, it dragged.

It was not enough to have an apparent contrast between the lively dances on the stage and the cruel statistics being flashed at the back - hundreds of thousands of men killed for the sake of gaining 800 yards. You could say that is a cheap way to do theatre - just show some horrifying numbers and do a routine in front of it.

There was little change of mood or atmosphere between the Edwardian frolics and the stench of the trenches. I didn’t believe I was in either place. There was a constant reminder that we were just seeing a play - or perhaps having a history lesson with songs and statistics we already knew.

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The show opened with great aplomb. The theatre, decked out in bunting and flags, set the mood cheerfully but the wit it wasn’t sustained. It felt hackneyed. Despite some beautiful singing, overall this production felt in the words of the song, tired and weary but it still carried on.

Oh What a Lovely War is at Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday, March 7.