World War One, a hundred years on, entrenched on London stages

Tue Mar 4, 2014 6:04am EST
Email This Article |
Share This Article
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
| Print This Article | Single Page
[-] Text [+]

By Michael Roddy

LONDON (Reuters) - The centenary year of the start of World War One is being marked on the London stage as a bloodbath that wasted millions of lives and ended in failure, setting the world on the destructive path for World War Two.

With "War Horse" - the internationally hailed play about a British army steed in the Great War - still playing in the West End, theatre-goers can now delve deeper into the human side of the conflict that killed some 10 million military personnel.

A slick and spirited revival of Joan Littlewood's dark-humored 1963 anti-war musical "Oh What a Lovely War" is on at the Theatre Royal in the east London borough of Stratford, where it created waves 50 years ago.

Playwright Peter Gill's "Versailles" dealing with the peace treaty that ended the 1914-18 war - but which in Gill's and many historians' view set the world on the road to the next one - opened last week at the bijou Donmar Warehouse venue.

Both shows are thought provoking as well as entertaining, with director Terry Johnson's revival of Littlewood's groundbreaking piece having the edge in sheer entertainment.

The play was made into a movie by director Richard Attenborough in 1969, featuring a pantheon of British stage and screen stars.

In the new London performance, a spirited troupe of 12 mostly young singers and actors, dressed much of the time in white clown suits rather than khaki because Littlewood abhorred the uniform, put on a mock "pierrot" musical review that was typical of seaside resorts in Britain at the time of the war.

It starts in a light-hearted vein with young men heading off to the front expecting to be back in a few months' time. But as the war drags on and on, and the casualty figures - projected on a tickertape-style screen above the stage - spiral upwards, the humor gets progressively grimmer.   Continued...

Graves are seen at the Silberloch World War One Military cemetery at the Vieil Armand "Hartmannswillerkopf" in the Alsace region in this November 13, 2013 file photo where around 30,000 French and German soldiers died in the Vosges mountain battles in 1915. REUTERS/Jacky Naegelen/Files