Today (oops, I see it's now yesterday!) I went, a bit reluctantly I must admit, to see the Byfleet Players production of Oh! What a Lovely War. Reluctantly because it's a play that I've never had any urge to see, their last production had pretty negative reports from people of my acquaintance who had seen it and I heard that there had been fairly major problems pulling together a cast and crew. However we at Ottershaw Players always get good support from other groups and so it is good to return the compliment.
On the whole it was a fairly competent amateur production which, in my opinion, would have been better suited to a smaller venue. I feel very strongly that if you are putting on a show in a 'proper' theatre and people who are not known to you, i.e. the general public, are coming to see it then you should make your best endeavour to make your show as professional as possible and I fear that what I saw and heard did not meet this requirement.
I liked having the characters dressed in their Pierrot costumes carrying out Front of House duties but unfortunately the attempted interaction between the audience and the MC fell rather flat.
With one or two notable exceptions the cast was adequate but some of the diction was poor and the end of lines was lost and, at times, I had a problem understanding what was being said. Helen Imison was outstanding, very talented with an excellent singing voice and dancing skills.
Tony Richardson and Nick Daborn I have seen often but in my opinion they both had a personal best with this play.
Everyone did really well with the musical numbers and the choreography was good.
The Pierrot costumes were very poor but the period dress for one or two scenes was excellent. Unfortunately it seems that Wilf Hashimi (the Director) had not taken to heart a comment made by the adjudicator of his festival play last October who pointed out that 'if male characters had to wear white tights please, fellas, don't wear boxer shorts underneath'. Although the Pierrots in this weren't wearing tights their trousers were clingy and transparent enough to make that rule a 'must'. Also, as this was supposed to have been 1914, I do think the couple of younger men should have been made to suffer for their art and had their hair cut.
The set was very simple and I liked it a lot - until after the interval when a door appeared at the back of stage right. This was used by just one character to make some of his entrances and exits and was totally pointless. It irritated me for the whole of the second half.
The lighting was OK but a bit erratic and could have been much better designed. There was one scene with a small group of soldiers supposedly in a trench on stage left interacting with the German troops who were not on stage but in the wings. This scene appeared not to have been lit at all, just a crescent moon projected at the back. Therefore we were looking at a dark stage. A bit of subtle lighting would have made all the difference.
The prompt was not prompt with her prompts and at times there were 'noises off' from the wings and backstage when there shouldn't have been.
There, I'm nit-picking now. And that's because the major problem was that the whole thing lacked pace. It didn't hold my attention and when that happens I spot all sorts of things that I think could have been done better. It should have moved me to tears but it didn't.
Having said all of that, it's introduced me to a play that I'd like to see again and will do so at the first opportunity.