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Posts Tagged ‘First World War’

When I booked for this months ago, I wasn’t expecting the world to be on the brink of yet another conflict in Ukraine. One hundred years on from the events depicted here and we’re still confronted with war on a daily basis. This timely and welcome revival also commemorates 100 years since the birth of its co-creator Joan Littlewood and 50 years since its ground-breaking first production, back where it all started at ‘a people’s theatre’ where it belongs.

It still winds up Michael Gove (something this production cheekily but appropriately recognises) so I can imagine the ‘conservative’ reaction in 1963. Presenting the First World War from the perspective of ordinary soldiers and making explicit how many millions of lives were lost as ‘a musical entertainment’ packs as much of a punch today as it must have done then. We’re told much of the true history of the war from the assassination which triggered it, interspersed with the satirical songs which would have been heard during it. Laughter pierced with moments of disbelief, horror and anger at how this was allowed to happen.

Terry Johnson’s production respects it’s heritage, most importantly the form of the Pierrot show. There’s an anarchic, ramshackle feel to it, particularly at the start and partly because of Lez Brotherston’s designs, but it achieves the right balance of entertainment and education / re-education. It zips along, changing from laughter to shock on the turn of an actor’s head. The audience are engaged and involved, which emphasises the populist nature underlying the piece.

I was delighted to learn that it is now a popular show to be performed in schools (up yours, Gove) because it tells a true story but also proves the power of theatre, something emphasised in original cast member Murray Melvin’s moving programme note recalling the show’s reception in Paris, which somewhat embarrassingly brought me to tears on the tube on the way home!

A fitting tribute to its subject and its creators and still a wake-up call 50 years on.

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