Oh! What a Lovely War, arriving at Richmond Theatre next week, tells of incompetent generals, doomed soldiers and intractable class divisions…but with musicians, comedians and clowns.

Joan Littlewood and her Theatre Workshop threw away the 60s rulebook when they devised this tragic-comic musical, and now Northern Stage have adapted it for today’s audiences.

Gary Kitching, one of a troupe of 12 actors, kicks off the production as MC.

“It’s an iconic piece of theatre, so there’s a challenging legacy there, but we hope we’ve done justice to what Littlewood intended,” he says.

“It’s been collaborative, and we’ve all had an input. The directors, Erica Whyman and Sam Kenyon, haven’t imposed anything on anybody, and we’ve really kept within the spirit of ensemble.”

The show is full of classic war-time tunes, among them It’s a Long Way to Tipperary, Pack up Your Troubles and Keep the Home Fires Burning.

“Everybody in the show plays an instrument, and we create the music onstage ourselves,” adds Kitching proudly.

“I started on the humble triangle and have progressed to the snare. The songs are from the First World War, but arranged so that they also hint towards other conflicts. So there are elements of the Second World War in there as well.”

With war so much in the headlines over the last decade, modern day parallels are easy to draw.

“Some feedback that we’ve had is that is that people feel it’s brought them closer to their grandfathers who fought in the First World War,” he adds. “But you can’t get away from the fact that it’s 2010. So there’s a nod forward to this year, and an acknowledgement of the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“Certain songs, like Keep the Home Fires Burning, are especially poignant. I mean it’s a play about war and soldiers, and the effect war has on people, so of course it has a resonance with the conflicts of today.”

Littlewood involved both cast and audience in creating the original musical, and audiences on this tour too have been eager to join in.

“We had one instance where there was a slight pause at the start of the second half, it was in York I think, and the audience actually started to sing Pack up Your Troubles themselves,” says Kitching. “At the start of the show I speak to them. It’s great because younger members aren’t used to people talking back to them from the stage. This isn’t a reminiscent theatre geared towards people who remember their parents talking about that time. Rather it’s an exciting ensemble piece, appealing to young people as much as old.

“It’s different every night for every audience, as theatre should be.”

Oh! What a Lovely War, Richmond Theatre, The Green, April 27-May 1, 7.45pm (plus 2.30pm Wed and Sat), £26/£21, ambassadortickets.com/richmond-theatre