AUB Productions is proud to present ‘Oh What A Lovely War’ – a musical theatre classic.

The show is performed by final-year BA (Hons) Acting students, with costumes designed and created by BA (Hons) Costume and Performance Design students, and hair and make-up from final-year BA (Hons) Make-up for Media and Performance students.

We popped along to rehearsals to speak with the Director of the production and Senior Lecturer on the Acting course, Ken Robertson, about his first-hand inspiration for the production…

Joan Littlewood’s original production of Oh What a Lovely War has been described as the show that shook Britain. You attended the original production in 1963 – what was your experience of the show?

“I was very lucky that I went to a very progressive secondary school, and our drama teacher was from the Rose Bruford School of Speech and Drama. He knew I was interested in drama and he arranged for myself and a few others to attend the Royal Court Theatre for a week.

In the morning we would be doing classes with famous directors, in the afternoon we would look at theatres and actors rehearsing with directors, then in the evening, we would attend different shows. On the Monday night, we saw a play called Naked starring Diane Cilento, Sean Connery’s wife at the time. Then on the Tuesday, we saw a play upstairs at the Royal Court, which was like a kitchen drama. On the Wednesday evening, we went to see a typical West End play called Goodnight Mrs. Puffin, starring Irene Handl, who was a great comedienne.

On the following night, the Thursday night, we were taken to a theatre in the East End of London, Theatre Royal, for a new play that was being previewed called Oh! What a Lovely War. We didn’t know anything about it, and when we got to the theatre it was in the middle of nowhere – with rubble all around it! There stood this old theatre.

It was plush bright red when you went in. And the noise from the bar, it was just a whole different atmosphere.

The whole play was extraordinary. There was no fourth wall, the actors and the audience bantered with each other and the audience joined in with the singing. It was shocking because you were laughing and enjoying yourself, but at the same time looking at the numbers of people being killed and the casualties [from the war].

It was a total experience because they used projections, actors running from the back of the auditorium – you never knew what was going to happen next.

I was 16 at the time and had never seen anything like it. It completely changes your whole concept of theatre, of what it can be and what it can say.

How has seeing the original theatre production inspired you as Director for this production of Oh What a Lovely War?

What I’ve done is incorporated parts of film style into the production, which gives the actors much more to do in their singing, their dancing, and their acting. It’s a big cast, originally it was only done with seven men and five women. I have eleven men and ten women.

How is this AUB production different to the 2014 production?

The 2014 production was performed on a proscenium stage at the Lighthouse Theatre in Poole. This is more of an immersive production with actors coming from all different angles. The venue is unique and has been purpose-built for us, the set has been created for us with lots of different levels – we’ve even got a fireman’s pole.

There’s a lot of things happening when the audience come in – the audience enters through the actors’ changing rooms and through the make-up area.

It’s a pierrot show, so the audience can see all the actors being made up, they can talk to the actors as they come in. Then they go into the auditorium, and again there are things going on in there before the play starts.

So we are opening it up and making it really imaginative.

2018 marks the centenary of the end of World War 1. How is this commemorated in the production?

The play celebrates the period and the music of the period, but then there are particular scenes that are quite harrowing. Scenes of soldiers – we’ve tried to create the reality of the trenches and what it was like, juxtaposed with projections and sound effects. It’s a total theatre experience.

Hopefully, the audience will be affected in the same way that I was when I was 16. Enjoying the entertainment but at the same time reflecting upon what we are actually looking back on.”

‘Oh What a Lovely War’ debuts on Wednesday 9 May, continuing through to Sunday 13 May. Find out more and book your tickets.