photo: LUU Music Theatre Society
The dramatic, haunting opening of the Music Theatre Society’s version of Oh! What a Lovely War is not representative of the rest of the musical’s lively tone but it does reflect the effective staging and production to be enjoyed throughout. The scene is quick to thwart any ideas that musicals are irrelevant and unsuitable for a student audience; the narrator character, played charismatically by Alex Charing, launches into a witty introductory soliloquy. Charting the events in the run up to and during World War I, the musical satirises political views and propaganda whilst parodying the soldiers’ sentiments and progression through the war.
It’s a refreshing take on Joan Littlewood’s 1963 musical satire which was also the focus of Richard Attenborough’s acclaimed 1969 directorial debut. You could hardly notice that this was originally a play intended for a cast of 50 as director Matthew Baker and the creative team effortlessly adapt the script and the casts’ roles. The detailed characterisation of the actors, from their well practiced accents to exaggerated gesticulations, was to such a high standard that it dismissed the need for character names altogether.
Musical scenes with female members of the cast provide a familiar constant throughout the show and episodes with exchanges involving the whole cast are particularly hilarious. Effective use is made of staging and props – the washing line scene is of note – and the set design is perfect to integrate the talented band members, introduce a raised platform and give our narrator the best seat in the house. A jaunty soundtrack with some emotive solo performances keeps the show moving joyfully along.
Fans of the film and stage production will recognise favourites such as ‘It’s A Long Way To Tipperary’ and ‘Pack Up Your Troubles’. By the end, you’ll realise that no cast member had been left underused and that the musical, with its perfectly executed components, was good old fashioned fun and frolics at its best – enjoyed in the 60s and certainly enjoyed by the audience in stage@leeds. As an epithet, ‘lovely’ isn’t adequate in describing the strength of this production. I’d say ‘exceptional’.