Oh! What a Lovely War

Melbournians ought not miss this production of Oh What a Lovely War with fine singing by a strong cast. Book now. http://benfuller852.wix.com/pierrot-productions
This year marks one hundred years since the beginning of World War I – The “war to end all wars”. Over that time, the human race has failed to change radically enough to see anything near an end to the violence and catastrophe that war inevitably brings. Put simply, nothing has changed. US drums of war are with us.

We enjoyed and urge you to attend Renegade Theatre, in association with The Trades Hall Literary Institute, and Ben Fuller’s first rate production of ‘Oh What a Lovely War’, the legendary anti-war musical play first created by Joan Littlewood and the Theatre Workshop in 1963. My mother a theatre Director knew Joan Littlewood and was influenced for her Australian work.

The show that shook Britain.

The controversy still rages. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/theatre/10604911/Oh-What-a-Lovely-War-Why-the-battle-still-rages.html

The production takes place in The New Ballroom of the Trades Hall Building in Melbourne, a site of historic significance, where the anti-conscription movement assembled during World War I. The audience on entering Trades Hall are shown a plaque of the WW1 people’s vote against conscription.

Update: Review
The cast of activists and skilled performers do justice to the depth and complexity of Littlewood’s script. The play’s high level political commentary is delivered at a fast pace with intelligence and wit. And yet the themes are clearly communicated for a wide audience.

The show opens with Pierrot clowns performing Mel Brooks-esque slapstick comedy, complete with audience interaction. The cast remain in Pierrot costumes throughout the show – including on the battlefield and at highfalutin international presidential dinner dances.

The idea of conveying a hard hitting anti-war message while wearing clown suits sounded risky to me. Would it be too obscure? Would it come across as surreal and abstracted from reality? Would the audience consist of five old white guys? Are the members of Renegade Theatre a bit nutty? It quickly became apparent that, just as writer Joan Littlewood expected her audiences to be smart enough to get it, director Ben Fuller is not actually taking such a risk – he knows that it works. The cast pull it off to a T.

The play is a history lesson in war-time decision making processes. The truths of war are revealed as blood-thirsty field marshal Douglas Haig refuses to acknowledge the atrocities of war. He is happy to lose hundreds of thousands of troops if it means driving the enemy into the ground. A jovial grouse shooting expedition highlights the vested economic interests behind the scenes of the slaughter. One hundred years on, little has changed.

A French mutineer, war deserters and a Christmas day drinking session with Jerry and Tommy (German and British troops) in No Man’s Land depict the bravery and humanism of the working class when soldiers refuse to follow orders.

The play’s musical director Jonathan Harvey does an amazing job on the tunes. Ben Fuller has cast professional performers – including Paul Dawber who plays the all powerful Haig. The women in the show sing spectacularly. Dianne Algate’s rendition of I’ll make a man of you is top notch. A certain chain-smoking Renegade Activist MC still had his voice perfectly intact after three straight nights of yelling, singing and screaming at new army recruits.

Littlewood said of the original production that she wanted people to leave the theatre laughing at the “vulgarity of war”. But in the final scenes of the show, quiet sobs can be heard in Trades Hall’s New Ballroom as the audience reflects on the sadness of senseless death. Renegade Theatre does a great job of adapting a complex and sophisticated play into an entertaining, energetic, tear-jerking show. A must see.


The company brings together members of the activist community with the theatre community to voice our ongoing disgust at our own and other imperialist governments responsible for the ongoing involvement of nations in wars such as the Afghanistan and Iraq invasions, as well as other conflicts around the world.

The show is one that is held close to the hearts of many around the left, including the director, Ben Fuller, who recreated the play with fellow students and staff while studying Musical Theatre at WAAPA in 1998. Ben had been looking for an opportunity to stage the show again since then. Trades Hall Building Caretaker and activist Jacob Grech, who had spoken to Ben numerous times over the past few years about the idea, arranged for the production to be endorsed by the Trades Hall Council as part of the 100th anniversary of this terrible event.
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As a member of IPAN, Independent and Peaceful Australian Network, I believe the choice of this musical is important in raising the question of peace and to challenge our ruling class’s dominant ANZACery propaganda.

As well, in an earlier era Labor governments at Commonwealth and State levels financed a highly regarded Art and Working Life programme to support community theatre and with the unions (cancelled). This production, now opened in Melbourne, would be recognised and assisted to continue seasons and tour interstate and regionally. As this is not happening…Book now!


Waging Peace on War: Canberra. WACA Peace Convergence

Photo from Waging Peace on War: Canberra. WACA Peace Convergence copy
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One Response to Oh! What a Lovely War

  1. Viola Wilkins July 28, 2014 at 2:16 am #

    The First World Trade War killed one million more soldiers than records show – and one in FIVE injured troops suffered shell-shock

    New history of Great War also reveals shell shock severely underestimated

    Professor Antoine Prost says up to 10million died in conflict, not 9million
    Governments gave conservative figures and failed to include many missing

    By Martin Robinson, 20 January 2014

    One million more soldiers may have died in the First World War than first believed while survivors left with crippling shell-shock were also severely underestimated, leading academics said today.

    Antoine Prost, Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Paris, says that in the chaos after the Great War governments, including Britain’s, produced conservative death figures.

    Professor Prost also says errors in casualty lists and the vast number of missing soldiers means ten million probably perished in trench warfare between 1914 and 1918, not nine million as first thought.

    His claims are made in a three essays called The Complete Cambridge History of the First World War.

    ‘The calculation of losses isn’t easy and most studies present lists of figures without explaining what they cover or how they have been established,’ he told The Times.

    ‘So there is confusion concerning places whose borders had shifted; there is inconsistency in recording the deaths of soldiers from sickness and prisoners of war who died in captivity; and there is uncertainty surrounding the number of soldiers reported missing it seems that in several cases, including Britain, the generally accepted calculations are underestimates.’

    Confusion: Academics have said that discrepancies about how many men died in captivity or went missing means the death figures between 1914 and 1918 are skewed

    The book’s editor, Jay Winter from Yale University, also says that the scale of shell-shock was also massively below the real figure.

    He says one in five injured British soldiers suffered with mental health problems, much higher than recorded.

    ‘Medical and administrative practices and prejudice led to radical underestimates of shell shock,’ he said.

    ‘Studies show stress in the Great War was probably more intense than in later conflicts and yet physicians were reluctant to diagnose many injuries as psychological.

    ‘To do so probably would have made it less likely (he) would receive a pension.’

    Professor Winter’s research found that in the Second World War the stress of conflict was far more recognised, with many more diagnosed with psychological injuries between 1939 and 1945.

    Other academics have reacted to the essays, and said that while many governments were conservative in their death figures, Russia had increased numbers in a propaganda war with Tsarists.

    Others said that the conclusions on shell shock were ‘almost certainly correct’.


    Allied troops, like these French grenadiers, lived, fought and died in huge trench systems dug during WWI

    The First World War changed warfare forever.

    After the Battle of the Marne in September, 1914, the German army was forced to retreat to the River Aisne.

    The commander decided that his troops must at all costs hold onto those parts of France and Belgium that they still occupied.

    The men were ordered to dig trenches that would provide them with protection from the advancing French and British troops.

    The Allies soon realised that they could not break through this line and they also began to dig.

    After a few months these trenches had spread from the North Sea to the Swiss Frontier. As the Germans were the first to build, they had been able to choose the best places.

    The possession of the higher ground not only gave the Germans a tactical advantage, but it forced the British and French to live in the worst conditions.

    Most of this area was rarely a few feet above sea level. As soon as soldiers began to dig down they would invariably find water two or three feet below the surface.

    Water-logged trenches were a constant problem for soldiers on the Western Front leading to the spread of lice and so-called ‘trench foot’, where constantly soaking boots lead to soldiers feet literally rotting off the bone.

    It would take the loss of millions of lives and the invention of the tank by the British army before the formidable system was finally broken four years after it was built….
    More http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_War_I_casualties