Alice E Mayer on Oh What a Lovely War: ‘We have created a whole circus with a six person cast’

Alice E Mayer in Oh What a Lovely War. Photo: Alex Harvey-Brown

Blackeyed Theatre’s major revival of classic musical Oh What a Lovely War has been touring the UK throughout the autumn, culminating in a three-week run at Southwark Playhouse – now entering its final week at the theatre.

It celebrates the 60th anniversary of Joan Littlewood’s famous antiwar satire and featuring iconic songs Pack Up Your Troubles and It’s a Long Way to Tipperary. The production is highly visual; set in a circus it highlights the absurdity and danger of human conflict. The run at Southwark Playhouse marks the first time Oh What a Lovely War has played in London in over a decade.

We spoke with Alice E Mayer who stars as part of an ensemble cast featuring Christopher Arkeston, Tom Crabtree, Harry Curley, Chioma Uma and Euan Wilson.

She tells us about the production, what it was like to tour the UK and how things have come so far but remain the same.

Alice E Mayer (front centre) with the rest of the company in Oh What a Lovely War. Photo: Alex Harvey-Brown

Q&A with Alice E Mayer

What can you tell us about this revival of Oh What a Lovely War?

In this 60th anniversary production of the show,  we have remained faithful to some elements from the original 1963 version created by Joan Littlewood, but we have also put our own, Blackeyed spin on the production. We have created a whole circus with a six person cast – a ring master, a strong man,  an acrobat, a trapeze artist, and of course, a couple of clowns. Through snapshot scenes of the war, music from the time and hilariously outrageous scenes, we tell the story of the First World War. 

What can you tell us about your role in the production?

My base character is a flirtatious trapeze artist, but I play multiple roles from a terrified French soldier to a non-plussed doctor to a confident showgirl, singing the song ‘I’ll make a man of you’ made famous by Dame Maggie Smith in the 1969 film. 

I also play multiple instruments in the show, as do we all, supporting each other both as an ensemble and musically.

How did you approach your characters?

I always come from a place of truth and what feels fun, interesting and right for a part. Playing a variety of roles does come with some challenges! Making each character different from each other and allowing them to be larger than life but still real and relatable. I had to create my base character from my costume which I found very exciting and it’s been thrilling seeing everyone’s circus character grow in confidence as we got to meet the audiences all over the UK.

Alice E Mayer in Oh What a Lovely War. Photo: Alex Harvey-Brown

What was it like to take the production on tour across the UK?

It’s brilliant touring to the parts of the UK that you never knew you needed to go to! One of my personal favourites is Bury St Edmunds as it has a gorgeous theatre which stands in beautiful grounds. I’m really excited to perform in Theatr Clwyd in Wales next year, as I used to go there a lot when I was growing up. 
It’s also fun to see which audience can best sing the tongue twister ‘Sister Susie’s Sewing Shirts for Soldiers’. I’m keeping scores, and so far an evening audience in Basingstoke is winning!

What do you hope audiences have been taking away from the show

In its 60th year, audiences can enjoy the wonderful tunes from the First World War (it’s amazing how many are still known today) and revel in the absurdist comedy, but also have the space to reflect on how far we’ve come since the Great War, and more importantly, how much has remained the same. I hope that they’ll be entertained but also take pause to reflect.

I met an older woman after one of the shows, she had waited after the performance to thank us for the show. She greeted me with tears in her eyes and she asked me ‘why don’t we learn?’ And I can’t sum up the production better than that.

Oh What a Lovely War is at Southwark Playhouse Borough until 9 December