Sunday, February 13, 2011

Barry Kyle gives us “Oh What a Lovely War!”

Last night at the World War I Memorial Museum, director Barry Kyle offered the audience his vision for “Oh What a Lovely War!”. This play will be the talk of the town very soon and I’d like to contribute to the discussion. You’re in for a treat.

A week or so ago, photographer Elaine Ismert and I watched a dressed-down rehearsal. Barry started with a nice talk with his cast. It seemed apparent that everyone was having a great deal of fun. Amid the fun, I sensed a reverence for the setting for this thought-provoking piece, this “war game” that gives one food for much thinking about a war long ago; a not so lovely, not so great war that didn’t end all wars as we well know given our current headlines. Barry’s English roots, his sense of humour with an “oh you are”, deep experience, and Welsh-connected wit show clear in this production of oh what a complex subject.

This play came from the collaborative minds of the famous Theatre Workshop in London and their director, Joan Littlewood. Bertolt Brecht’s spirit has a hand in this production too. Joan would want us to know that. Barry reminded me of that when we talked together. Barry’s humble in that way; an artist who pays pleasant homage to those artists with whom we connect, finger tip to finger tip, over the years. It must be fun to be one of his students at UMKC.

Despite the discomfort of the war subject matter, this production will make you feel…many things. You’ll be surprised when the cast mingles with the audience before the show begins. The pierrot costumes seem strange at first, but be patient. You’ll not notice them after a while for the actors will transport you with their pronouncements, lines that sound like new bulletins while they wear various hats and helmets. This is a game after all, played with a beach ball that looks like a world globe, performed in and around a sandbox that reminds me of military rehearsals, chalk talks at Ranger School in the summer of ’73 when we walked through the plan in a scale model bit of dirt and in later years with computers when we simulated operations on non-sandy flatscreens.

We’ve come so far with our wargaming technologies and yet we are where we were. This living war simulation, this witty satirical two hour window of theatre pulled me back to that time of the Great War and shot me forward in time again with laughs, jarring perspective, absurdity, songs, dance, marching, a hilarious bayonet drill session, sights and even sounds of artillery in the not so distant distance. Thankfully, there were constant reminders from the cast that this was merely a game. At one point, a woman sings a lovely comforting song and throws hard candy into the audience to sweeten the pain.

If you enjoyed Monty Python, this play (first produced in 1963) will give you a taste of Python before Python, a production, a style that the Pythons would tell you captured a time in English theatre, a time when John Cleese was fringing in Edinburgh with the Cambridge Circus, a time when the fringe was very much out there and not a commercial Sundance-like event as it is today.

So, give it a go, this play I mean, this wargame without a joystick, this vision from Barry Kyle, this cast and crew. Lovely indeed.

Photograph by Elaine Ismert...pictured, Barry on the left with his cast mucking about before the rehearsal last week...

The wargame runs to Feb. 27...visit the website here...

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