My Itinerary ({: itinerary.length :})

{: event.badge :}

{: event.title :}

{: event.dates :} {: event.dateDescription :}
{: item :}
Suitable for {: item :}
1001 Stories Collection

Oh What a Lovely War

1001 Oh What A Lovely War1
Added on 30th September 2020

Creator Joan LIttlewood and Theatre Workshop
First performed 1963, Theatre Royal, Stratford East

Historical
1001

An iconic musical that is a satire on World War I.

Story

As Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s assassination triggers the outbreak of WW1 in 1914, we follow the Smith family - stand-ins for the British working class - who initially view the war with sunny optimism. After the three Smith sons witness the reality of trench warfare, their illusions are shattered, and the best they can hope for is survival. A satirical chronicle of events, the detachment and culpability of those promoting the conflict was accentuated with a cast of characters in Pierrot costumes, allegorical settings, hymns and parodic music hall songs. All against a projected backdrop of black and white images from the front alongside stark statistics of the exponential human cost.

Why we chose it

For its ground-breaking and unique style: a combination of different forms of theatre, audience participation and members of the cast playing multiple roles. It’s a brilliant example of an epic musical, a play which makes the audience aware they’re watching a play. It also tells an important story about a watershed period in our world history as well as representing a view of war more generally.

Where it came from

It was inspired by Charles Chilton’s radio series The Long, Long Trail - a tribute to the young men, like his own father, who had died on the Western Front. Also The Donkeys by historian Alan Clark.

It was created by visionary – anti-war - theatre director, Joan Littlewood and Theatre Workshop in 1963 through a process of improvisation. The songs were found in a book published in 1917 called Tommy’s Tunes which had new lyrics written in the trenches to well-known songs of the era. These included "Oh! It's a Lovely War" written by J. P. Long and Maurice Scott.

Where it went next

It opened at Theatre Royal Stratford East in 1963, transferred to the West End and premiered on Broadway in 1964. Made into a film directed by Richard Attenborough in 1969 its ensemble cast reads like a ‘who’s who’ of 20th century British theatre: Maggie Smith, Dirk Bogarde, John Gielgud, John Mills, Kenneth More, Laurence Olivier, Jack Hawkins, Corin Redgrave, Michael Redgrave, Vanessa Redgrave, Ralph Richardson, Ian Holm, Paul Shelley, Malcolm McFee, Jean-Pierre Cassel, Nanette Newman, Edward Fox, Susannah York, John Clements, Phyllis Calvert and Maurice Roëves.

Associated stories

To mark the centenary of the First World War in 2014, a revival was mounted at the Theatre Royal Stratford East and schools around the country were invited to devise projects exploring what war meant to them now, with the best eight staged as curtain-raisers during the run of the show.

A stage musical Miss Littlewood about the life of the iconic director by Sam Kenyon was produced by the RSC in 2018

Added on 30th September 2020

Creator Joan LIttlewood and Theatre Workshop
First performed 1963, Theatre Royal, Stratford East

Historical
1001