Fringe Box



Stage Dragon: Oh What A Lovely War, Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Published on: 26 Jan, 2024
Updated on: 27 Jan, 2024

By Ferenc Hepp

Oh What A Lovely War, presented by Blackeyed Theatre in association with South Hill Park at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, offers a unique take on the iconic original musical developed by Joan Littlewood and her ensemble at the Theatre Workshop.

Directed by Nicky Allpress, the production brings together an ensemble cast, including Tom Benjamin, Tom Crabtree, Harry Curley, Alice Mayer, Chioma Uma, and Euan Wilson.

The pictures of Oh What A Lovely War, playing at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford until Saturday, January 27.

The show’s setting is immediately immersive, with some cast members already on stage and others engaging with the audience upon entry.

The atmosphere is established with a beige, period-appropriate set, low-level lighting, and a nod to a travelling circus – a fitting backdrop for a satirical exploration of the First World War.

The production covers the exact period of 1914-1918, using projection on the set to display slides from the era, along with dates and significant events from the war.

The story unfolds through a mixture of short, satirical snippets and longer, more serious, occasionally sentimental scenes.

The exaggerated accents and fast-paced delivery contribute to the unique style of the piece.

The ensemble cast, portraying numerous characters demonstrates commendable teamwork from all.

The actors’ make up and the MC’s welcome to the “greatest show on earth” emphasise the circus theme, adding an extra layer to the production.

However, this style may pose challenges for some of the audience, as acknowledged by one of the troupe members who directly asked us if we understood everything.

The majority, along with me, gave a resounding no as the answer.

The style remains consistent, which could have benefited from more varied tones and nuances.

While the projection serves as an informative backdrop, it doesn’t fully bridge the accessibility gap, leaving some, especially those less familiar with the First World War, feeling disconnected.

The characters portrayed by the ensemble could have been more distinctive, providing a stronger foundation for the audience to connect with the narrative.

Despite moments of slapstick and physical comedy performed with skill, the overall cohesion of the production fell short, and the applause after some of the musical numbers was notably muted.

The actor-musicians demonstrate impressive multitasking skills, playing their own instruments on stage. However, at times, the song words become difficult to understand or are simply inaudible, detracting from the overall impact of the musical numbers.

This show has a distinct style, and its songs are enjoyable, but the production falls short of realising its full potential. While projection is a popular medium nowadays, it could have been more helpful and informative.

The presence of a diverse audience, including many youngsters, is always a positive. Their apparent appreciation at the end of the performance suggests that the production has succeeded in engaging a younger demographic. However, for those seeking a more comprehensive and accessible exploration of the classic title, there remains a sense of unfulfilled expectation.

Oh What A Lovely War runs until Saturday, January 27 and tickets are available via or on 01483 440000.

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