Adrian McDougall “Oh What a Lovely War”

The play I saw was Oh What a Lovely War by Theatre Workshop, directed by Adrian McDougall on 11/09/08 at ‘The Courtyard Centre for Arts in Hereford. The play was staged in a traditional Proscenium Arch production. I think the director chose to stage the play like this because a Proscenium Arch easily creates a fourth-wall between the audience and the actors; therefore it is very effective when the actors break the fourth-wall to talk to the audience. OWALW could be described as a non-naturalistic play.

There are many factors that contribute to this description, for example, there is a lot of multi-rolling. This is a key tool of Brechtian theatre, multi-rolling alienates the audience. The set and costume are minimalistic, abstract props are used to represent objects. Also, the use of multi-media juxtaposes the dialogue from the actors. However, not much Physical Theatre is used so the play can be described as Stylised, with some elements of realism and naturalism, and not completely abstract.

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The multi-media was used to show serious messages and horrific pictures, this contrasted the comical acting which worked very well as it made the audience think about what they were seeing. The audience had to separate the serious messages from the comedy themselves instead of being told what to think by the actors. These are all important tools of Bertolt Brecht who believed that people should not hang their brains up with their hats when they walked into the theatre.

He wanted to mentally and morally challenge the audience through the use of stylised theatre, juxtaposition with songs and placards, and physical theatre. The set was minimalistic and very bare with only the actor’s instruments, the costumes which were hung on white crosses, a few stage blocks, a multi-media screen and the actors themselves. It almost looked as the though the actors were still rehearsing on a bare stage. I think the minimalistic set adds to the non-naturalistic, stylised themes of the play. There was almost no lighting, only white light with hardly any colours.

This reinforces the rehearsal feel of the production and acts as a distancing effect from the actors and the audience. It could also be a reflection on the sombre feelings of war and death. The theme of minimalism is reinforced as there are not many set changes, and when one is made it is usually a re-arrangement of the stage blocks. There are not many props used in this production but when they are they are symbolic props as they are used for many things. For example, many of the upper-class characters have a cane, the same canes are also used as guns for soldier characters.

The only music in OWALW were man made with instruments, all of the actors played different instruments and swapped instruments according to who was on stage. Other than that no artificial sounds are used. Costume changes were sharp and quick with symbolic clothing items used to make up for lack of full costume. This was because all costume changes were on stage for the audience to see and had to be quick. This showed the audience that the actors were actual actors and not the characters themselves which distances the audiences from the characters so the audience do not get too involved with the characters.

The acting style was mostly naturalistic but was stylised with over-the-top stereotypical characters and voices. The actors in OWALW regularly broke through the fourth wall and used direct audience address this worked well with the constant change of characters. The five actors worked well together and interacted with each other very fluidly, I think each character stood out equally in the play however there was one character that seemed to have the more important roles in each scene.

The characters did not develop much as they changed regularly however the actors made a good job of becoming the character as soon as they put a new costume on. The play takes place from the beginning to the end of the First World War. I think the director chose to perform this play in a stylistic way so the points it makes are more hard-hitting to the audience if large juxtaposition is occurring. I think it was a good decision from the director to only have five actors in the whole performance who also play the instruments because it adds to the minimalism if there are a small number of actors.

It also allows the fast paced scene and costume changes to flow into each other quickly. Seeing this production has given me many ideas to help me in my devised pieces. I will try to incorporate as many ideas as possible e. g. the use of music and multi-media help to create a stylised situation where there is an opportunity to morally challenge the audience and make them think. The play had many Brechtian influences and I hope that my pieces can benefit from this experience.

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