Hart House Theatre’s fifth and final production of their 2019/2020 season was Oh, What a Lovely War, directed by Autumn Smith. The play depicted a WWI virtual reality video game and had a running time of approximately two hours and fifteen minutes.
The stage was set up with three screens: one main screen in landscape that stood as a backdrop for all the scenes, then two screens on both sides of the stage, in portrait, which also showed the same picture as the main screen, but in smaller portions. Depending on the scene, the side screens would show a different picture than the larger main screen.
There were strengths and weaknesses of Oh, What a Lovely War’s production. To begin, the primary strong suits of the play included the special effects, mild humour, and timing of gun shots and explosions.
One brilliant aspect of the special effects was the production’s incorporation of the video game. The screens would play the options of choosing characters, weapons, and settings of a video game. This was a neat way to embody the video game element of the play; the production did a great job of showcasing this. They also used coloured green fog when toxic chlorine gas fumed through the land, which felt impressively realistic.
Some scenes contained mild humour, which resonated with audience members. There was one scene in which the video game players had to choose between two characters: Wilson (Katie Ready-Walters) or Pankhurst (Jillian Robinson). As the players were choosing between these two characters, the side screens projected the characters in battle stance, in which their body bounces around, waiting to be chosen. Some people in the audience laughed at this because of their close resemblance to video game characters.
The timings of gun shots and explosions were very well rehearsed. When soldiers and players were shot during the war, the gun-shot hole was projected on the screens. Every gun-shot scene was executed with precision. The actors and actresses fell to the ground realistically and appeared to be dead.
Despite the well-rehearsed elements, I found the play lacking in several areas. Considering the production featured a twelve-person cast, every actor and actress either played two or more roles. This was confusing to me as an audience member because I had a hard time understanding who was who in the different scenes.
The play did not perform up to standards that I had expected. The acting in particular scenes lacked energy while the choreography lacked synchronicity.
Additionally, the visuals in a particular scene where the characters read out a letter was difficult to follow and perhaps did not translate as it was intended. The letter wrote itself on the screens, in cursive handwriting, as the characters read their lines independently. The letter was not read out loud to the audience even though it was projected on to the screen. The main screen projected the entire letter meanwhile the side portrait screens only showed bits and pieces of the letter, cutting out full sentences. Although the letter was projected on the screen, I couldn’t actually read it and had no idea what it said. The problem with the letter being entirely projected on the main screen is that it stood behind the characters on stage. They blocked parts of the message which left the audience uninformed.
Despite the historical storyline and realistic sound effects, the play was rather boring. I noticed that during intermission, some audience members left, which goes to show that Oh, What a Lovely War was not so lovely.
Oh, What a Lovely War ran from February 28 to March 7.