Oh What A Lovely War With The Tenerife Swallows

In case it slipped your mind it’s 100 years since the First World War began, the Swallows Drama Group from Los Cristianos hasn’t forgotten. They staged two performances of the musical Oh What A Lovely War and after seeing the first night I can vouch that the message is as powerful as ever.

Decades before Pink Floyd The Wall and Blackadde Goes Fourth took their swipes at the absurdity of and tragic waste of young lives that dominated WW1, this musical hit the stage in 1963. I can remember seeing bits of the Richard Attenborough film version but that was such a long time ago. My Grandad used to tell me of his awful experiences  in the trenches and I always remember the sorrow in his voice.

It was a time of bizarre optimism as the war was depicted as some huge boys own adventure, a stiff upper lipped determination that all would work out well and even to think about the cost in human lives was almost treason. The contrast with the western front couldn’t have been more different and it’s this gulf in reality that the musical highlights. The cast did a grand job of mastering the old popular propaganda songs like Pack Up Your Troubles and Belgium Put the Kibosh On The Kaiser and the generals and leaders were shown as history portrays them, fools at best and guilty of sacrificing millions of young recruits to protect their privileged place in society.

The hall at the Los Cristianos cultural centre was packed with an audience of 80 plus and the stage was small and with little room for access but they kept up a good pace as the story moved from 1914 to 1918. The soldiers, many played by ladies, wore clown like costumes rather than uniforms to further show the farcical nature of the hell they were ordered into. Props were basic but the narrator’s recital of the cold stats of lives lost in each battle illustrated the points perfectly.

The illusion of happy tommies backed by a well drilled military machine under the sharpest tactical minds was gradually shattered as letters from the front told of poor planning, lack of equipment, and an almost blatant disregard for others lives from the commanders. This was when the songs changed in nature to parodies of upbeat contemporary tunes and rebellious cries for an end to the carnage. When This Bloody War Is Over and Keep The Home Fires Burning are rousing but tinged with sadness. The two hour show was a fitting tribute to the anniversary of WW1 and with proceeds going to Cancer Research Tenerife it also served a good cause. My compliments to the whole ensemble, coming from a generation that didn’t have conscription I can only think how fortunate I am.