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New Era Players - Oh What a Lovely War

11th to 20th September 2014.

Review from the Newbury Weekly News.

Wartime winner for New Era ensemble

Young actors join seasoned performers in a spirited musical production

New Era Players: Oh What a Lovely War, at the New Era Theatre, Wash Common, from Thursday, September 11 to Saturday, September 13 and Tuesday, September 16 to Saturday September 20

New Era Players' production of Joan Littlewood's iconic musical play Oh What a Lovely War is certainly an ambitious undertaking, with a large ensemble company of 23. Director Janet Bennett is to be congratulated for orchestrating such an enthralling, energetic and spirited production.

It was so encouraging to see many younger cast members perform and join the more seasoned members of the Players.

The play reminds us of the horrors of warfare and in particular the carnage of the First World War as it chronicles the story of the fight on the Western Front through music hall songs and some savage satire.

The stage was stripped back to bare walls, with suggestions of the battlefields all painted in shades of khaki and a screen at the back for projections of the gruesome casualty statistics and photos and recruitment posters of the time.

The evening was introduced by an MC, who quickly established a rapport with the audience as we all prepared 'to play the war game' - participation was encouraged.

The action was told from many points of view and the cast impressively donned different hats and accents to become British, French or German officers and soldiers.

There was some bawdy humour from the Irish soldiers who had arrived 'ahead of themselves' and were consequently shelled by the British Expeditionary Force and accidently shot, which resonates with today's so-called 'friendly fire'.

Each scene was a perfectly formed vignette - be it life in the trenches or the greed of the arms suppliers that resulted in the German soldiers being killed on their own barbed wire.

The rifle drill, under the command of the sergeant major, with the men using sticks and umbrellas as weapons was very funny, contrasting with the unofficial Christmas Eve truce and the Germans beautifully singing Silent Night and the British raucous response with the rude suggestive Cookhouse.

After exchanging what presents they had, they emerged through the fog in the middle of no man’s land to greet each other, in what was a moving theatrical moment.

Life back home was not forgotten, with casualty names being posted, details of work in the munitions and cotton factories and the audience enthusiastically joining in with the tongue-twister song Sister Susie's Sewing Shirts for Soldiers.

There was so much to appreciate in this production, from the many varied unaccompanied songs such as a splendid rendition of Keep the Home Fires Burning to the raw humour of The Bells of Hell.

As this was an ensemble production, with the cast playing many different parts, it would be invidious to single out any individual. Although there were many outstanding performances, cast names were all listed as 'the company'.

The final emotional song And When They Ask Us sums up the stoical courage of all who fought in this "war to end all wars" and the costly price the nations had to pay, with 10 million people dead, 20 million wounded and seven million missing.

The poignant ending brought a tear to the eye - 'we will remember them' 100 years on.

Bravo New Era.