Mather’s Theatre Hosts Oh What a Lovely War

Lauren Toneatto ’21, Social Media Editor

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Given the musical’s immersive environment, hard-to-follow plot and 2-hour and 15-minute run time, Oh What a Lovely War received mixed reviews, with three-quarters of the audience not staying for the talk-back and Q&A following the performance. 

With various countries’ flags forming a circus tent from the ceiling, seating on stage and circus music playing as the audience entered, Peter Cook ’21 believed Mathers Theatre “looked more like a vaudeville act than a serious war analysis,” when he attended the Sat. March 2 performance. 

Some seats were relocated from the traditional audience onto the stage, making the show “more immersive” by creating a pathway for “audience engagement” as actors performed between seats, in the aisles, and on top of scaffolding off stage, according to onlookers Lily Tarwater ’21 and Elizabeth Imphong ’21 respectively.

“[S]itting on stage both enhanced and inhibited my viewing experience,” stated Tarwater. “While most of the choreography seemed to be focusing on the larger audience, it also was clear they [Assistant Choreographer Hannah Hillegas and Director Karen Kirkham] kept in mind that there would be a small audience on the stage. A lot of little details were noticeable only to us.” 

Imphong, who sat in the traditional seating, said that “when the actors were faced to the second [onstage] audience it was…hard to hear what they were saying.”

Additionally, actors often spoken with a British, French, Irish or German accent or in a foreign language given the show’s focus on World War I. While this multilingual experience added to the show’s immersion, it affected Imphong’s comprehension as she “had a slightly hard time following the plot because it was hard to hear everyone’s accents clearly.”

Kristen Kim ’21, who was an usher for the show, argued, “I don’t think the show is really trying to tell a story with a plot – it’s more trying to make you feel a feeling,” countering Imphong’s concern about “missing some plot points.” 

Addie Downs ’19 stated that the show was “executed really well. The cast sounded great and the set and costumes were really interesting and well done. While I admit that sometimes I did find myself a bit confused I enjoyed seeing the hard work my friends put into it and supporting the department.”

In Oh What a Lovely War, the M.C., played by Josh Bennett ’20, begins the performance by reminding the audience of November 11, 1914, Armistice Day, the end of World War I. In the show’s program, Director Karen Kirkham notes, “One hundred years after the November 11th Armistice, the musical is both a reminder of the causalities and causes of war as well as a celebration of the soldiers and their enduring testament to the power of the human spirit.”

Cast member Mohala Kaliebe ’22 stated “I think that the play’s satirical and often humorous perspective also lends itself to some poignant scenes, as you realize just how many people suffered and died for the sake of the politics, pride and greed of a select few.” Kim added, the premise is “a kind of progression that moves from being cheerful and optimistic to being sad and frustrated and crazed and scared.”

The class “Dramaturgy” this semester, which is taught by Kirkham, aided in “historical research on the play and period,” with student written lobby displays “document[ing] various aspects of the war” according to Kirkham’s program statement. Dramaturgy students and performers, Bennett, Brendan Carr ’21 and Lillian Carver ’21 led a talk-back following the performance moderated by Kirkham talking about their particular research. The talk-back did not last long with minimal audience participation given that three-quarters had left immediately after the show.

“[T]he length of the play was a bit too long, especially towards the second half,” stated Imphong, perhaps contributing to lack of audience interest by this point. 

Created by Joan Littlewood, Theatre Workshop and Charles Chilton in 1963, Oh What a Lovely War is an ensemble piece with actors portraying multiple characters including German soldiers, Englishwomen and Irish sergeants. The Dickinson College Department of Theatre and Dance and the Mermaid Players presented this production which ran on Friday, March 1; Saturday, March 2; Monday, March 4 and Tuesday, March 5 beginning at 8 p.m. in Mathers Theatre located in the Holland Union Building.