More déjà vu… the first time I saw this play was at Chester, staged in a big top. I still remember the shock of the new; the ferocity of the satire, the horror of the statistics.
But comparisons are odious, and as the tickertape remorselessly rattles past on the backdrop, those colossal figures are still hard to take in: lives lost in a matter of hours; all the men who went missing. On a ramshackle stage covered in odds and ends, back and forth we go, from the end of the pier show all set to entertain us to the scenes of war which appal us. Past or present, it’s all chaotic and noisy.
The cast are jumbled in a bizarre mix of clothing, dressed to the nines in one scene then changing to uniform to be blown to smithereens in another. Likewise, they take on multifarious roles and are equally accomplished on a wide variety of instruments, and with the cast list being based on their musical abilities, let’s just say that if it was Gary Kitching as the mc, he was excellent at rousing the audience and holding the whole thing together.
Interestingly, dialogue in French and German was not always translated; unfortunate that the translator’s accent was far better than the French General’s. However, to a man…and a woman, the cast did a terrific job, whether dealing with comedy or tragedy, rousing anthems or plaintive ballads. But such excellence is to be expected when you have actors of the calibre of Propeller’s Robert Hands.
Memorable scenes included the one showing Christmas spirit shared by the two sides in No Man’s Land, in contrast with their arrogant, callous leaders. And grouse shooting back in Blighty revealed the extent of the despicable profiteering: they say you can’t get blood from a stone, but you can certainly make millions out of blood and guts. One can only imagine the impact this remarkable play first had, back in 1963 - and a pity that it’s impossible to imagine a time when it will no longer be relevant.