Oh! What a Lovely War

Wed 8th – Sat 11th August 2012

reviews

Mel Melville

at 10:13 on 9th Aug 2012

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Oh! You will be laughing, on the brink of tears or simply ultimately captivated. Knowing the bare necessities of World War One and nothing about the Edinburgh Captivate Drama group, I was expecting nothing like what I saw. What I saw was an outstanding production delivered by this talented young cast.

I was captured from the very opening number and proceeded to travel along a whirlwind of emotions. The production features hilarious sketches entwined with the harsh reality of the pain of the war captured beautifully through fantastic musical numbers. The harmonies are perfect. The characterisation is fantastic. The actors are unbelievably professional and many of this hugely talented cast will undoubtedly progress towards West End productions.

Ultimately, I was blown away by the beauty of the production. A screen at the back of the stage provides a constant reminder of the tragedies of the war and the death toll was seen to be rising exponentially. Death is behind the backdrop of all jokes - it was the inevitable. One scene that made me laugh time and time again featured a fearful Irish character repeating, ‘’I’ve been shot... I’ve been shot...’’ at any sound or gunshot. Written, this does not sound entertaining but it highlights how fantastic the comedic timing of this production is, time and time again.

The entire ensemble is incredibly committed and a joy to watch but certain names must be mentioned. Firstly, the five boys in this show master the creation of such contrasting yet stereotypical characters. Max Reid, who plays the Sergeant amongst many other roles, stole the stage with an exceptional performance. This was closely followed by the sixteen year old Alistair Robertson who captured a diverse array of characters including one hilarious boy that became the butt of all the jokes. Not once did a flicker of doubt enter my mind whilst this talented duo took to the stage. The girls in the ensemble maintain a brilliant performance throughout, with Rachel Coll and Sylvia Cowie being a far cut above the rest. The soloists portray emotion beautifully as they sing effortlessly in tune throughout. The music isn’t anything particularly special but it underscores the cast at all the right moments, complementing the show well. The lighting and tech are almost unnoticeable but when required they are present and accomplished.

The entire cast were onstage throughout the show, sitting at the back of the stage when they were not in the limelight. Despite being on the stage for the whole two and a quarter hour production, not once did I witness a single member of the cast break character. In fact, during the interval the ensemble marched through the crowd outside and entertained us further. Late entrance by one lady led a cast member to shout completely in character..."Don’t be late in future m’am!" All costume changes take place discreetly onstage; the costumes are simple but effective, with all the girls wearing exactly same outfit with the occasional prop or hat to represent their new character.

How could they improve the production? I simply couldn’t tell you, for in my eyes, it was perfect.

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Leah Eades

at 10:17 on 9th Aug 2012

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Battered old trunks full of costumes litter the stage. One man tickles the ivories of a keyboard, occasionally receiving instructions from performers and the show’s compère, and a projector behind the scene flashes up images of enlistment posters, photos from the trenches, and harrowing statistics of the incomprehensibly large losses of the battles of World War I. ‘Oh! What a Lovely War’ treads the thin line between humour and tragedy with military precision, using music-hall humour and cheery wartime song and propaganda sketches to contrast and highlight the horrors of World War I, the futility of fighting and the real human cost of military incompetence. What begins as predominantly comical grows increasingly dark as the war lengthens and worsens throughout the course of this full-length, gripping show.

The cast were an incredible group of performers, and all the songs were performed spotlessly. They made us laugh and made us cry, often within the same scene. We saw young men marching off to war singing and getting gunned down. We saw women sending their men off to the slaughter. We saw Hague on a pedestal stubbornly refusing to change tactics regardless of loss of life, and we saw the suffering of all nations dragged into the madness. The real kick in the teeth came when it struck you that many of the men who died in the trenches were in fact no older than these talented young performers. It makes you shiver.

Although the cast were universally strong, with each member of the ensemble playing multiple roles, there were some really stand-out performances. Max Reid led the show as the hilarious compère, whilst Alistair Robertson’s beautiful singing voice was a fittingly poignant way to end the show. I also particularly enjoyed Seimi Rowan’s performance as a German soldier singing hymns at Christmas in the trenches. Of the girls, Rachel Coll led the ensemble with great talent both for singing and comedy, and Sylvia Cowie was another one to watch out for.

I really could not recommend this production more. It’s hilarious. It’s heartbreaking. It’s imaginative and expertly produced. It’s crammed full of little cameos and details that build up and make it great. And all this from a group of children who are still at school! I only wish I could go back in time, move to Edinburgh and join this drama troupe, because this was by far the best musical I’ve seen at this year’s Fringe, and it’s amazing that the cast are all still so young. By the end of the performance, there were not many dry eyes left in the audience, and the cast received a well-earned standing ovation. I have no doubt that this will be repeated every night, so go see it while you can.

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