first night

Oh, What a Lovely War!

Oh, What a Lovely War! fights off any preconceptions about The Freshers' Play

Oh, What a Lovely War!

Durham Student Theatre


Oh What a Lovely War is definitely not a favourite play of mine.  A satirical look at the timeline of World War One, the play is undoubtedly funny in places but is too disjointed to gauge any real emotional connection considering the weight of its subject matter. Thus it is with great surprise that I find myself recommending this production.

It is the pure energy and attack of the cast that will seduce the most pretentious of theatregoers. With an astonishing cast size verging on thirty, it is testament to the director Matt Dann’s abilities in crowd control that not one member of the cast is not having fun on stage.

To focus only the scale of the production is to do it an injustice. With so many different settings (the play is essentially a series of sketches), costumes and props are rightly stripped down to the bare necessities and each is used to perfect symbolic effect. Black staging blocks are painted as dice and are used to take us to the trenches on Christmas Day, not once do they distract from what is one of the show’s most moving scenes.

 It may also come as a surprise to many that the show contains a fair few songs. Normally such productions in Durham are paraded as musicals with orchestral accompaniment but here a simple piano suits to portray the simplicity of wartime life. Whilst the singing on display is decidedly variable, most of the songs are welcome (Michael Earnshaw’s hymn being one particularly worthy of mention) and the talent on display gives one great faith in Durham theatre. Nonetheless, the production’s issue of length (it's two and a half hours) could have been solved by cutting some of these.

The principal issue of the show however, lies in its variety. Again every aspect of the production, from singing to accents to lighting, is impressive at one point or another but this varies dramatically from scene to scene. As a result there are dramatic shifts in quality and an audience feels a slight sense of apprehension as to whether the next scene will work or not.

With such a mammoth production this was always likely to be the case and the balance between good and bad is firmly weighted in the production’s favour. Much of it hilarious, moments are moving and the talent on show is truly incredible. I don’t need to add that it’s a Freshers’ Play, but it does make the show all the more inspiring.

* * *

Sam Kingston-Jones



18 November 2011

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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