Tragedies of war (as told by clowns)

Gina Geddes, Josie Blackmore, Nicole Vair and Lexi MacRae rehearse on Sunday in preparation for Theatre St. Thomas’ upcoming show, “Oh What a Lovely War.” The play runs from Jan. 25 until Jan. 28. (Shane Magee/AQ)

Usually, when you think of someone telling a World War I story, you think of intrepid foreign correspondents or the voice of a valiant veteran. But in, “Oh What a Lovely War,” the tragedies of war are told by clowns.

Theatre St. Thomas will be performing Joan Littlewood’s play at the Black Box Theatre this week. Ilkay Silk, director of drama at St. Thomas University, says she loves the play because of its use of comedy to make serious points about war.

“It’s a bit like Monty Python, which can be very funny, but also has this dark side to it because it’s always making a point,” she said. “It’s satirising characters and through comedy and making fun, there’s a commentary, a very serious commentary being told.”

Silk says the play is sure to be entertaining, with songs from the time period, a live seven-piece band and choreographed dance numbers.

TST last performed “Oh What a Lovely War” in 2000, and Silk is excited to have the theatre company perform it again. She chose the play because of its important social commentary about war, but also because it allows for a large number of students to be involved.

“Students learn a lot from being in this kind of play in the sense that they each play so many different parts,” she said.

“They don’t have just one role, and there’s dancing and singing and clowning and it’s a very wonderful piece to have students involved in for performance.”

There are 28 cast members performing in the show, including eight first-year students. Silk says since September, the students have been dedicating 12 hours a week to rehearsals to get this play right.

“Once you get a part in the play you’re expected to take it seriously and these students have. Last weekend we rehearsed for 22 hours,” she said. “It’s a huge commitment and a commitment that’s important for them. They make friends and it becomes part of their social life.”

Silk says the mixture of comedy and tragedy will make it an entertaining night for the audience.

“The music is fabulous and the choreographyis wonderful,” she said. “They’ll laugh and they’ll also be very upset.”

But Silk says the underlying message of the play is what makes it a play people should see.

“We want to move people,” she said.

“We just want people to think about what war really means.”

“Oh What a Lovely War” opens on Jan. 25 and runs until Jan. 28 with a show each evening at 7:30 p.m. and a matinee at 2 p.m. on Saturday. Admission is $5 for students and seniors and $10 for adults.