One of England's most exclusive girls' schools has vowed to continue staging an anti-war play despite the outbreak of hostilities in Iraq.

Teachers at Roedean School in Brighton promised Oh, What A Lovely War!, which opened last night, would go on. They said despite the light-hearted title it was a serious piece about the horrors of war.

Pupils would be extremely disappointed if the show, which depicts army life during the First World War, was cancelled at the 11th hour.

Head of drama Kate Armes said: "It was created at a time when there was freedom to speak out against what was happening in the Great War.

"There was some considerable anguish about the way generals and politicians had insisted the war should continue des-pite appalling losses on all sides.

"It reminds us war is always an appalling tragedy in which there are no winners because so many lives are lost.

"It would be inappropriate to cancel the production. There could hardly be a better time to remind people of the tragedy of war."

Anti-war group Sussex Action for Peace backed the school's decision to go on with the show.

Activist Cath Senker said: "I think they should carry on with their play if it shows up the horrors of war."

First performed in 1963, Oh, What a Lovely War! quickly established itself as one of the most important pieces of 20th Century theatre.

The show came from a radio programme featuring songs of the period.

It rejects the notion the actors should dress up as khaki-clad soldiers and instead presents the company as a pierrot troupe called The Merry Roosters, complete with clown outfits.

A montage of war scenes include the trenches, the home front and the decision makers.

A film version was shot on Brigh-ton's West Pier with Richard Attenborough directing.

About 50 girls, aged from 13 to 17, are taking part in the musical, either singing or working behind the scenes.

The play is also being performed today and tomorrow. The public are welcome to attend but seats need to be booked in advance with Helen James on 01273 667510.