Oh what a lovely musical at Harrogate Theatre

Christmas 1914 in Oh What a Lovely War, and British and German troops meet in No Man's Land.   (Photograph Kevin Cheeseright)
Christmas 1914 in Oh What a Lovely War, and British and German troops meet in No Man's Land. (Photograph Kevin Cheeseright)

Oh What a Lovely War starts at Harrogate Theatre this Wednesday night and promises to “go over the top” in the best possible way.

The unique First World War musical play, devised in the 1960s by the celebrated director Joan Littlewood, is being presented by Harrogate Dramatic Society as the final offering of their season.

Funny and lively, yet poignant even heart-breaking, it’s a challenging piece of stage-work which lays bare the futility and carnage of war through the songs and documents of the period.

For this particular production, there’s a backstage team of more than 20 men and women together with a nine-piece pit band, made up of young musicians.

Each player is either a third year student or post-graduate at York St John University and have come together specially for the Harrogate Dramatic Society production.

The musical director is Matt Dawson who hopes that, after the HDS’s production finishes, the band of young musicians could become a permanent ensemble.

Oh What a Lovely War is certainly making big demands on the society’s woman - and manpower resources.

The play needs no fewer than 125 parts to be filled, more than the entire membership of the society.

The producers have solved the problem using 20 versatile male and female actors, each taking on anything up to ten or more different roles – from a Tommy in the trenches to a bumbling British General to a German ‘Hausfrau’ – with the necessary fast costume changes.

All this talent is under the capable direction of Chris Rawson with the expert choreography of Christine Littlewood.

Following a radio version of Oh What a Lovely War, Joan Littlewood and her Theatre Workshop of actors created a musical and theatrical chronicle of the horrors of the First World War which won critical acclaim at the time.

The play was then developed as a screenplay for the cinema in 1969 with a star-studded cast which included John Mills, John Gielgud, Ralph Richardson, Maggie Smith, Dirk Bogarde, Laurence Olivier and Vanessa Redgrave.

At the end of each performance, there will be a collection in aid of the Poppy Appeal organised by the Harrogate Victory Branch of the Royal British Legion.

The branch itself is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year with a Poppy Proms concert in the Constance Green Hall of St Aidan’s School, Harrogate on July 20 at 7.30pm.

The concert will feature music by the Yorkshire Volunteers Band, Fanfare and Corps of Drums with the Harrogate Male Voice Choir.

Oh What A Lovely War runs at Harrogate Theatre from Wednesday, May 1 until Saturday, May 4.

Evening performances begin at 7.30pm and the Saturday matinee is at 2.30pm.

Tickets are available from the Theatre Box Office 01423 502116, or on-line at www.harrogatetheatre.co.uk