Poster for the East Berlin production of Oh What a Lovely War


In December 1965, Joan Littlewood’s Theatre Workshop toured Germany with their satirical World War One musical, Oh What a Lovely War (translated as Ach, was für ein reizender Krieg). The tour was encouraged by the play’s success in West Germany as part of a 1964 European tour.[1]

This is a poster for the tour’s first performance, staged in East Berlin as part of the annual Berliner Festtage (‘Festival Days’).

At the time, it was politically controversial for a British theatre company to perform first in East Berlin. Cold war tensions had escalated in the late 1950s and early 1960s: the Berlin Wall was constructed in 1961, and 1962 witnessed the Cuban Missile Crisis. But, in context, Theatre Workshop’s decision was not surprising – its roots were in communist politics and theatre practices. In spite of these tensions, Oh What a Lovely War’s tour was received well in both East and West Germany.

Poster design

Designed by Gerhard Rappus, the poster features a khaki background, reminiscent of military uniforms, and a line drawing of an army general in profile. His mouth is stretched wide as if angrily shouting an order, and his eyes are closed to suggest a narrow-sighted and dogged belief in his own words. He is ‘eating’ a soldier (clad in the play’s famous Pierrot costume), who with a smile on his face and a dutiful stride, marches along unaware of what lies before, or behind, him – as much a victim of his own superiors as of the ‘enemy’.

This poster illustrates the ‘lions led by donkeys’ view that is central to Littlewood’s play – i.e. the idea that ordinary soldiers, who died in devastating numbers, were misled by distant, uncaring and incompetent British Army generals. Over the decades, this viewpoint has been questioned and reassessed by many historians.

[1] Kathleen Riley, Nigel Hawthorne on Stage (Hatfield: University of Hertfordshire Press, 2004), p. 112.

Full title:
Joan Littlewood Archive. Oh What a Lovely War poster, Berlin Festival
East Berlin (DDR)
Poster / Ephemera / Print
Gerhard Rappus, Berliner Festtage
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Add MS 89164/9/29

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