Review / Theatre triumphs where historians failed

Theatre / “Oh, What a Lovely War”. Directed by Chris Baldock. At Theatre 3 until March 10. Reviewed by JOE WOODWARD

Cast of “Oh, What a Lovely War!”

THE historian AJP Taylor once stated in a lecture that “Oh, What a Lovely War” as a theatre production “does what the historians failed to do”.

He wondered aloud as to why one had to go to the theatre to see what the “great war” was all about. After seeing Canberra Rep’s production of the play, one is struck by the shame that must be afforded all those who committed the murder of so many millions of people in a few short years of World War I.

Director Chris Baldock has carefully crafted the work in the Pierrot concert form reminiscent of the original production idea from 1963.

It begins like a fun show with elements of sentimentality and good old familiar songs. The actors perform with a strong sense of giving to the audience as if in a cabaret comedy night. The set reminds us of the posters of times past now held in museums. We are disarmed and reassured that this is just a play so sit back and enjoy!

Then nasty little facts about the unbelievable numbers of those killed in the battles are surreptitiously depicted in slides shown above the stage and at various points while the characters are parodied and playfully mocked by the actors.

We are meticulously reminded of the hideous atrocities performed on young human beings in an orgy of state-sanctioned, contrived, directed and implemented murder. While the actors distance us from the historical action, we are allowed to ponder what really happened in a non-threatening and detached way.

The production is a triumph for what theatre can achieve in a cultural and social connection with the political agendas of our time. Statements by today’s government and social commentators throughout the world are dangerously similar to those echoed in “Oh, What a Lovely War”.

In an era when wars are again political options for the social elites and dogmatic ideological zealots of all shades, the play is a reminder and a wake-up cry from those who died and from those whose resultant PTSD from their involvement affected generations ever since.

The energetic and very talented performers who reached out to the audience on opening night must be applauded for committing their skills to a very large connection with humanity’s quest for sanity in a largely absurd and insane world. The willingness of the audience to be taken on a journey of rediscovery offers a positive hope for our future.

The production offered so many moments of exquisite theatricality that it is difficult to single out any particular scene.

Music, set, choreography combined to enhance the show’s communication with the audience. For some ears, the balance of voices with the music, still needed some adjustment.

On a hot night in the theatre, some may have felt the structure of the play needed more variation in the rhythm of the piece, particularly in the second act. However, in assessing the production, it is the vibrancy and the epic nature of the work that comes through and leaves one with a sense of fulfilment from a powerful night at the theatre.

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