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Silchester Players - Oh What a Lovely War

10th to 11th and 24th to 25th October 2008.

From the Newbury Weekly News.

Setting the scene for satire

Wartime comedy and pathos in Joan Littlewood's Theatre Workshop revival

Oh! What a Lovely War, at Silchester Village Hall, on Friday, October 10, Saturday, October 11, Friday, October 17 and Saturday, October 18

As is clear from the title, Oh! What a Lovely War sets out to give an ironic twist to the appalling carnage of the First World War.

While highlighting the sheer absurdity of four years of bloody battles that achieved virtually nothing, it also depicts, with gentle humour, the countless individual cases of intense bravery, not just from the British Expeditionary Forces, but from all the international groups that eventually became involved in the conflict.

Under the control of director/producer Alan Moorhouse, Silchester Players introduced some very impressive touches in their interpretation of the musical show.

At front of house, the audience were greeted by a guard of honour, with military costumes and a fine display of memorabilia provided by the Great War Society.

With the hall suitably adorned with bunting, poppies on sale from members of the Air Training Corps, and even Anzac-style biscuits available to nibble, the scene was definitely set to do justice to Joan Littlewood's Theatre Workshop production.

The cast appeared as pierrots in a show within a show, regularly assuming new roles and delivering a mixture of dialogue and song (with Tony Oliver at the keyboard) and  occasional bursts of audience participation.

The performance itself fell victim to first-night nerves in the early scenes, with an excessive number of prompts. Nevertheless, the 19-strong cast displayed considerable sensitivity in their treatment of the subject matter, and coped well with the rich mixture of humour, pathos and satire that the script demands, with the action moving between military strategy meetings, life in the trenches, and those left at home.

Some memorable scenes were the grouse shoot, where a group of industrialists compared notes on the profits to be made from war; a meeting of English and French generals, with some delightful exchanges between the soldiers and their interpreters; and a church service where the troops added their preferred lyrics to the hymns.

The performance was technically strong, with slides projected onto the back of the stage to provide a stark and poignant reminder of the number of casualties incurred throughout the war.

Overall, a powerful show, sensitively performed by the players.