Witty production shows futility of war with typically British satirical songs

Billingshurst Dramatic Society marks the centenary of the start of World War One with a production of Oh, What a Lovely War.

Spokeswoman Jackie Charman said: “Merging typically British satirical songs of the era with factual data drawn from war memoirs, official records, personal recollections and commentaries, Oh What a Lovely War” chronicles World War One in a novel, humorous and theatrical way but leaves us in no doubt as to the horror and futility of it.

“The show received the acclaim of audiences and critics when it was first performed by Joan Littlewood’s Theatre Workshop at the Theatre Royal, Stratford East, London in 1963 and has since become something of a classic of the modern theatre.

“Thinking it would be too morbid to dress in khaki, the cast decided instead to dress as pierrots, entertainers who wore distinctive white costumes decorated with black bobbles and ruffs. Pierrots sang, danced, juggled and joked on the piers of seaside resorts from the 1890s until the 1950s.

“As well as the costume idea, Oh What a Lovely War used the organising principle of actors playing many parts - soldiers, generals, suffragettes, politicians, profiteers and spies.

“Actor Victor Spinetti was in the original cast and was somewhat sceptical about the production at the beginning. He hated the songs and felt sick at the thought of war. Like most people he knew something about World War One but soon became enlightened of some shocking facts. “One such example was that Britain manufactured German Krupp fuses for their artillery under license. After the war, Krupp took them to court and Britain was charged a cost per shell. The amount payable was calculated using a formula of how many shells were fired to kill a German soldier multiplied by the number of Germans killed by the British. He concluded that Lovely War was one of the two shows he was proud to be in.”

Oh What a Lovely War will be performed at Fishers Farm Theatre on June 5, 6 and 7 at 7.45pm. Doors and bar will be open from 7.15pm. Tickets cost £8 and are available from Mansell McTaggart, 70 High Street, Billingshurst (personal callers only).

Jackie added: “Preparations for the show are well underway. Director Natalie van de Braam’s inspirational enthusiasm and ability, coupled with the technical genius of our musical director, Keith Paul, have ensured that rehearsals are great fun.

“Our singing voices have greatly improved, along with our ability to take on different roles at short notice and use a wide range of foreign accents. We’ve also gained several new and talented members, including a couple of excellent singers from Billingshurst Choral Society.

“The recent professional production in London was a complete sell-out and judging by the interest already received, Billingshurst Dramatic Society is hoping for the same. It will undoubtedly be a moving and memorable production for a number of reasons, the main one being that something which ostensibly makes light of a terrible event in our history, will educate and enlighten audiences on the tragic waste of life that is war.”