How Pace is Manipulated in Oh What a Lovely War - The Purpose and Impact of These Techniques on the Play

How Pace is Manipulated in Oh What a Lovely War - The Purpose and Impact of These Techniques on the Play

How fast or slow a play is affects how the audience perceives it, the same scene performed at two different speeds can have a completely different impact on the play so it is important that the pace of a scene complements its tone. Maintaining the same pace for a long period of time however can make for a boring play and so manipulating the pace is important, but how often and how quickly you do this can itself make a statement. In this essay I plan to show how pace was successfully manipulated in ‘Oh What a Lovely War’.

In the first scene before the arrival of the MC, the pace is used to set the scene; it is slow and relaxed, ‘row, row, row’ is sung, a calm, peaceful song that mirrors the gentle progress of a rowing boat. The stage directions also suggest a slow pace as we are told that the characters ‘stroll’ in and ‘sit quietly’. This sets the context of the play as Pierrots would traditionally perform at holiday destinations such as seaside resorts. The aim of this scene is to create the illusion of the relaxed atmosphere of the seaside and the pace helps to do this. This sedate pace is deceptive and serves to lull the audience into a false sense of relaxation and draw contrast with the next part of the play.

When the MC arrives the pace immediately picks up, this is evident when the MC speaks as his lines portray him as bossy and impatient. The stage directions tell the actor to ‘Keep this ad-lib fresh’ suggesting that the MC must occasionally improvise in order to maintain the energy of this scene and prevent it from going stale. This energy mirrors the busyness of back-stage and also provides contrast. The main impact this fast pace has on the audience is drawing them in, keeping them interested by ensuring they do not get to comfortable with one pace. It also prepares them for future changes of pace.

The pace is sometimes used to draw parallels to war, for example, in one scene in which we see the news of war spreading through a street, it is evident that the pace is also quite fast as the lines are short and said one after the other without pause, this shows how quickly gossip spreads, but the busy, messy nature of this scene also mirrors the chaos and urgency of wartime and the nervousness of people during this time. As the chaos builds, the pace quickens culminating in an explosion and all the activity on stage comes to a stop, all is calm mirroring the peace when war has ended.
a sudden change of pace is sometimes used to shock the audience, for example, one scene in act one has a German and French officer writing a letter about the horrors of war, the pace is very slow, compared to the scenes before and after it, as we are told that the officers are sitting as they deliver their lines and talk with ‘quiet sincerity’ the slowness of this scene allows the devastating truths that they speak to sink in in the audience’s mind and is especially sobering after the energy of the scenes before it. Almost immediately after this we have a fast-paced scene in which the soldiers are doing drill exercises. This scene uses slapstick comedy with works best when it is quick and upbeat but the rapid change of pace also surprises the audience and serves to highlight how different the drill exercises were from the actual war experience- a joke compared to the reality of war.

In conclusion, the pace in ‘Oh what a lovely war’ is successfully manipulated as it has the intended impact on the audience whether that is to set a scene, maintain the audience’s interest or to strengthen the political message.