East London Humanists Chair Paul Kaufman critiques Michael Gove’s theatre review

Paul Kaufman

Paul Kaufman - Credit: Archant

Members of our group went to watch Oh What a Lovely War at the Theatre Royal in Stratford.

What a brilliant, thought-provoking and moving production.

How telling that this play should have been singled out for condemnation by Michael Gove, the unofficial Tory minister for commemorating the First World War.

Mr Gove’s charge is that the play “denigrates virtues such as patriotism, honour and courage”.

He completely misses the point. The characteristics, which he values so highly, were shared by many on all sides of the conflict including our enemies.

One of the questions prompted by the play is why so many people with such qualities engaged in such a dreadful bloodbath.

Mr Gove’s complaint that the play is part of a left wing conspiracy to rewrite history is also wide of the mark.

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It is worth remembering that it was the Tory MP and historian, Alan Clark, who used the phrase “lions led by donkeys” to describe the incompetence and indifference of the generals who sent millions of soldiers to their death.

Another characteristic Mr Gove prizes highly, but omits from his list, is religious faith. No doubt he deplores the lack of deference shown by the play.

In one short and simple scene a British soldier, and then a German Soldier, declare their belief that God will give them victory.

The play doesn’t need to spell out the nonsense of such views.

It prompts us to remember that the soldiers in Europe, who killed and maimed each other with gas, guns and bayonets, would for the most part have said they belonged to the same Christian faith, and that divine justification for war is as potent an issue today as it was then.

Judging by the night our group went, the attack by Mr Gove has done no harm to audience figures. It may well have had the opposite effect.

It was particularly good to see so many younger people there.

This great revival has received plaudits from across the political spectrum and richly deserves a transfer to the West End.