First, a confession: I only really became aware of Joan Littlewood’s legacy last year when I saw one-woman show Joan, Babs & Shelagh Too, which documented her entire career. But that one piece had me hooked and I’ve been fascinated by her singular approach to theatre making ever since.
Now her most famous work Oh What A Lovely War is coming to Oldham Coliseum, performed by a cast of actor-musicians. Devised by Littlewood and her Theatre Workshop troupe, it’s an anarchic look at the conformity created by armies and the horrors experienced by ordinary people at war.
The power of the piece is that it tells the story from the soldiers’ perspective, making use of songs sung during World War I like It’s a Long Way to Tipperary, Keep the Home Fires Burning and of course Oh What a Lovely War. First performed in 1963, it won a Tony Award when it transferred to Broadway in 1965 and was made into a film directed by Richard Attenborough in 1969.
On the centenary of Passchendaele, one of the worst battles of the WWI, this is an amazing insight into how people cope in a crisis, and a timely reminder of why war should always be avoided at all costs.