Oh What A Lovely War

Oh What a Lovely War

by Joan Littlewood

Directed by Brian Hossack

We performed “Oh What a Lovely War” by Joan Littlewood at the Derby & Joan Hall from 26th – 29th November 2014, including a Saturday Matinee.

The show is a theatrical chronicle of the horrors of the First World War told through the songs and documents of the period. First performed by Theatre Workshop – under the direction of Joan Littlewood – in 1963 at the Theatre Royal, Stratford East, London, it was acclaimed by audiences and critics. It won the Grand Prix of the Theatre des Nations festival in Paris that year, was staged on London’s West End and then on Broadway, and has gone on to become a classic of modern theatre. In 1969 a film version was made which extended the play’s popularity and it was revived and toured by the Royal National Theatre in 1998.

We performed a new edition of the play, revised by Joan Littlewood in 2010, which returned the script to the version created by the first cast.

The production was technically challenging. As well as making the basic pierrot outfits, our costumes and props team had to source assorted caps, belts, jackets, canes, etc. to allow a cast of 15 to portray scores of different parts. There was a challenging sound and lighting plot and the cast had not only to assume different characters at (quite literally) the drop of a hat, but also to sing and dance! Fortunately the director, Brian Hossack, had a clear vision of how the show should look and sound so that when all the different elements finally came together in the days running up to the final rehearsals, they worked well.

The show was hilarious and moving by turns, but the final note was one of pathos. Brian’s decision was that the final medley – normally sung at breakneck speed – should be slowed down, becoming a secular hymn to lost lives. And when Charlie (at 15 old enough to have fought and died a century ago) read out those final, shocking statistics there was, every night, an audible gasp. We didn’t take a curtain call – difficult for an audience we knew, but it wouldn’t have felt right – and while the applause was enthusiastic, the mood as people left was reflective: exactly what we had hoped for on the hundredth anniversary of the “war to end all wars”.


Charlie Cook

Lynda Danby

James Evans

Jo Holmes

Margaret Hoyes

Tony Jones

Graham Lynch

Jane MacFarlane

Irene McManus

Mark Pennington

Allan Purdue

Richard Richards

Val Thompson

Rachel White

Jenel Virden


Director: Brian Hossack

Stage Manager: Julie Hossack

Costume: Maggi Hogan, Jean Turton

Sound & Light: James Evans, Jacob Stowe

Musical Director: Jane McManus

Pianist: Jonathan

Cover imaged based upon “No Man’s Land” by Paolo Crosetto. Used under licence. The image is heavily edited and the original copy can be obtained here.