Discussing ‘Oh What a…’

Radio 3 discussion of Oh What a lovely War fifty years on.
Good account of the play’s impact at the time, and Murray Melvin very interesting on how scenes were improvised.
Also good on Littlewood’s delicacy of touch. She was a marvellous director.
The programme touched only slightly on the play’s sometimes-dodgy and simplistic version of the history. There is a big revival planned next year at Stratford East, directed by Terry Johnson, who is good. Will the play still be effective? I think it will, but the impact will be far less than in 1963, because then it was saying something new, but now the play’s view of the War is close to the Blackadder one widely accepted among the general public.



  1. Posted October 18, 2013 at 8:01 am | Permalink

    Don’t forget Charles Chilton’s contribution.
    In the 1970s, we organised a school outing to see a production. One girl’s parents refused to let her go, which shows how subversive the play seemed to some people.
    I saw a wonderful production on an army base at Salisbury in 1998. It was performed in a big top and the rain hammering on canvas added a touch of realism.
    It does seem obvious and simplistic today but, as you say, not at the time of the first production.

  2. Jonathan Lighter
    Posted October 28, 2013 at 11:28 pm | Permalink

    I was in college in the US when Richard Attenborough’s film version appeared in 1969. With an undergraduate’s knowledge of history, I thought it was in a class by itself, one of the most amazing movies I’d ever seen.

    Of course it seems creaky and pat today, but it was a milestone in the cinematic interpretation of the war nonetheless.

    The authentic songs and quotations give it real substance.

    • Posted October 28, 2013 at 11:36 pm | Permalink

      The film has some excellent moments – I really like its treatment of ‘Belgium put the Kibosh on the Kaiser’ – but most people who had seen the first production of the play thought the film a disappointment.

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