Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Oh What a Lovely War! (Nov 2014)


Our next production is Oh! What A Lovely War!, timed to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the Great War. It will be directed by Robert Barber, with musical director Jan Baker – and both are champing at the bit and ready to go.  

We are aiming at a production at The Plough during armistice week in November ’14 with an opening event including poetry, diaries and letters on armistice night.  

Note we are aiming to support The Royal British Legion during this year.  

Sept 1st: Main Rehearsals start

All those with parts, or seeking acting parts, however minor, should have attended this rehearsal, as should those interesting in joining an off-stage singing group.

Cast List  

  • Hilary Taylor
  • Jo Fallaize
  • Julia Higgins
  • Margaret Jewel
  • Phoebe Pidner
  • Mark Pluckrose
  • Ryan Sears-Avery
  • John Wehner
  • Beth Williams
  • Sam Conybeer 

Fund-raising Barn dance: The evening was great fun. There were stories of Stevenstone 1914 enacted by members of the company; dancing to Hips and Haws; singing with Jan and Debbie; hand bells from Chulmleigh Belles; food aplenty provided by St Giles WI. The evening ended with the incumbent ‘Lord of the manor’, Mr Clemson, making his way to join his regiment on July 5th 1914, as those assembled danced the night away oblivious to the ‘black storm clouds brewing’.

May 12th/14th: Auditions  

May 8th: Operations Briefing and recruitment   The two divisions focussed on the two wings of the operation; Local archive research and all aspects of production. Each division is broken down into sections with its own CO and the hope was that people would choose the divisions or divisions they would like to be a part of and meet the CO responsible for that division. We are still looking for any artifacts/stories local people have about any of their ancestors who were involved in any war: fighting, working on ‘the home front’/nursing/running the farm/family business etc. Our headline is: Your Village Needs You!  


NODA Review

I hold my hands up to the fact I have never seen ‘Oh What a Lovely War’ before (to which most folk seem shocked!). Unfortunately the overriding impression that I got from those people was a negative one, leaving me with an expectation of a dated, dirge-like parading of war songs from a cast dressed in perfectly researched period uniforms.   Fortunately I always like to form my own opinion and so I eagerly arrived at the theatre and proceeded to have a fantastic night, watching a show that was funny, satirical and moving.

On top of that this had been more than just a simple ‘putting on a show’ exercise. Accompanying the project was an exhibition of objects, photos and stories researched and collated from the area, painting a picture of the effect ‘The Great War’ had on the locals. It also included an outreach to the local schools that resulted in special performances and inclusion of students work in the exhibition. A fantastically well thought out project that truly demonstrates the part amateur theatre companies can play in their communities.  

Supporting the production was another community group, the choir, who set the atmosphere from the moment we walked into the auditorium through the ‘dugout tunnel’. Their harmonies and general strong vocals were a key part of the performance, not only supporting the onstage performers (who were a mixture of singing talent), but featuring as an integral part of the evening.   But back to the performance and my general ‘astoundedness’ and the fact I spent a good 10 minutes with my jaw on the floor wondering ‘what the *#%*’ was going on!   The production had been staged along the lines of the original 1963 production which stripped away the identities of the players by dressing them as Pierrot Clowns and making them the puppets for the cynical and disillusioned messages that hindsight breeds so efficiently. It completely captivated me and successfully drew me into the fast-paced, satirical world of Generals, Tsars, corporate fat cats and the poor Tommy at the bottom of the pile.  

Lynchpin of the piece is the lead Pierrot, who played her part wonderfully, delivering a character that was strong and seductive (putting me very much in mind of Cander and Ebbs ‘MC’ in the equally satirical ‘Cabaret’). Those audience members with sharp eyes will have seen her slowly plucking off the pom-poms from the front of her costume as the casualties mounted and as the ‘war game’ drew to a close she was still the focus of our attention, as her lifeless body was sprinkled with poppy-petals in the dramatic finale.  

I must say that I find it difficult to single out anyone else as the whole cast working in such a cohesive manner. Even when they were waiting for their next bit they were still in plain sight, sitting around the edges of the stage.   This would have been the perfect time to fall into the trap of becoming bored and distracted, but throughout they were still actively engaged in the action in front of them.  

Their combination of comic satire and poignant, emotional scenes of frustration and hope were portrayed by a cast who should have a very proud (and very talented) director to look back over the achievement. I can imagine many societies presented with the pitch, that they will be running around dressed as clowns to highlight the irony of war, might have balked, but Torrington Players have never been afraid of taking on a challenge (for which they should be applauded!).   Having said I can’t pick anyone else out, when we got the the end of the show were were treated to a reprise of ‘Keep the Home Fires Burning’ from a young pierrot whose voice would have melted the iciest of hearts. She brought a lump to the throat and a tear to many an eye in the audience that evening.

The simple use of triangular blocks made for an interesting stage, that caused the audience and cast alike to use their imaginations far more effectively than if they had be given a more realistic, but lower-budget set. Surrounded by camouflage netting, these blocks were flipped, flopped and spun into different configurations, as required by the cast, making for a very effective and modern stage.   Supporting the action on the stage was a large screen, upon which was projected the ‘facts and figures’ to lend a sobering subtitle to the humorous antics taking place in the ‘main ring’.

Although this wasn’t the slickest element of the show, it certainly elicited the appropriate amount of gasps and muted whispering as horrifying statistic followed horrifying statistic, reminding us all of the atrocious situation the world faced (and would face again).   Thank you to the cast, crew and committee of Torrington Players for introducing me to ‘Oh What a Lovely War’ in such a exciting fashion. This was a great show and one you should all be proud to have been a part of. Ian Goodenough

Tuesday, 11 November 2014