by Margaret Chrystall
IT was during World War II that Inverness theatre group The Florians first got together to entertain troops.
So maybe it’s no surprise that the way they’ve pulled together to present Oh, What A Lovely War! – the 1963 musical satire on World War I – has all the efficiency of a military operation.
Director of the show, Trevor Nicol, said: "I came up with the idea of doing it a few years ago. I knew the 100th anniversary was coming up and it was a show I have always had a desire to do.
"But it’s very challenging – probably the most challenging production I have ever directed."
Many of the cast face quick changes as they play multiple roles in the show which was originally put together by Joan Littlewood’s Theatre Workshop in Stratford from an original radio show by Charles Chilton.
Chilton had married World War I songs and grim statistics about the war and the Littlewood stage show developed his original ideas for the production which moved to the West End, Broadway and was then adapted for the late Sir Richard Attenborough’s first film as producer in 1969.
If the multiple roles played by the Florians cast keep them on their toes, a real-life sergeant major was brought in to drill their military moves.
Nicol said: "I have a neighbour, Jim Hutton, who was a regimental sergeant major with the Gordon Highlanders so he came in to run them through their manoeuvres and add some authenticity to the way they handle a weapon."
But the director revealed that mastering the dance routines created by his wife, choreographer and assistant director Caroline Nicol, may have proved just as testing.
"To be perfectly honest I think they would rather have the drill sergeant – she can crack the whip!" said Trevor.
The ingenuity of the group’s members in coming up with props, uniforms, authentic sound effects and personal touches – such as photos of the cast’s relatives who fought in the war – will be evident when the show opens on Tuesday.
Nicol said: "We’ve been lucky enough to borrow uniforms from Inverness Opera Company, the Gang Show and Fort George – as well as Inverness Opera Company’s wardrobe mistress Marion Campbell kindly making a lot for us too. There has also been a weird list of props for Janet Russell to find – with members also bringing in things like a doctor’s white coat.
"I used to volunteer at the Highlanders’ Museum at Fort George, so asked Amanda Galleitch, the curator there, if we could borrow some items.
"I’ve read out and recorded a letter they have from a soldier written to his parents from France in 1917.
"That will be heard between two scenes. The photos of the cast and their relatives will be shown before the production and during the interval.
"I didn’t want to use replica guns in the show, so asked one of our members Steve Kelly if he could come up with anything. He has made some weapons from wood plus three field telephones – and he’s making me a horse! You just ask and he says ‘Leave it with me!’."
Oh,What A Lovely War! is staged from Tuesday to next Saturday – with a matinee that day too – at Florians’ Little Theatre.Tickets are available on the Florians website with a link to Ticketsource