Stars explained: * A production of no real merit
with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not
enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real
life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A
good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely
achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a
great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major
flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic
which lifts theatre to another plane.
Angela, John, Willie, Audrey and Raymond
Blue Remembered Hills
Swan Theatre Amateur Company
When Dennis Potter’s Play for Today aired back in 1979 it was a landmark piece of television.
Potter had used the technique of adults playing children before in school flashbacks in Stand Up, Nigel Barton, but this was a complete cast of a complete play of adults playing children.
The TV play was a little unsettling and the stage adaptation creates that same unease. Having adults as children is not done for laughs, or as a gimmick, more as a sort of nudge of memory, remembering your days as a child with its freedom, insecurity, humiliation, fears, cruelty, bullying; its rapidly changing alliances and allegiances, its fluid pecking orders . . . all part of growing up. It is adulthood without social mores.
Potter said: “When we dream of childhood we take our present selves with us. It is not the adult world writ small; childhood is the adult world writ large."
The play is set in 1943, a single summer day in the idyllic Forest of Dean, a bucolic backwater in a war that is exciting and an endless source of games and chatter.
Peter and Willie
Peter’s dad is a “parachutist”, or so he says, and that is what Peter wants to be when he grows up. Peter, played by Jim Ballard is a bully, plain and simple, not the brightest of the bunch and with an arrogant disdain for all those he considers beneath him – which is just about everyone apart from Wallace Wilson who it appears is faster, braver, stronger, cleverer than anyone else at school as well as being the best fighter.
Peter’s main punchbag is Willie, played with childish glee by Matt Fearnley. Willie spends much of his time playing at being a fighter pilot and shooting imaginary machine guns.
Then there is John, played by Bethany Vickers, an adult girl playing a young boy adding an added twist presumably by necessity rather than design. She manages the role well mind, beating up bully Peter with aplomb, to become No 2 in the pecking order – after Wallace of course.
John is bright, a peacemaker and more sensible than the rest while his younger brother Raymond, played by Steve Willis in his cowboy outfit, is quiet, kind - not wanting to kill a trapped squirrel for the 6d bounty for its tail for instance - and stutters, which makes him the butt of many a Peter joke.
Hannah Blackmore is Angela who has a baby in a pram, a doll this time, but her flirtyness suggests a real one might not be as distant a possibility as prudence might hope. Her best friend is Audrey, played by Carolyn Young, who needs reassurance she is a best friend, and who has the hots for Peter, helping him in the most underhand way in a bet with stuttering Raymond. A tomboy at heart.
Then there is Donald, Donald Duck played with adolescent angst by Joe Clarke. Donald’s father has been captured by the Japanese which brings gory predictions from Peter although even he eventually shows some sympathy for the poor lad.
Donald Duck crying alone
Donald is in a state, crying to himself for his dad and finding some sort of comfort in playing with matches which, aided by the unintended consequences of actions by the rest of the children, brings the day to its tragic end.
There is humour, or course, in seeing adults playing children, just as we laugh at the antics of real children in our adult world, but there is a disturbing undercurrent, a distant memory of our own childhood, and the realisation that the actions of children are not that far removed from those of adults - the denial of responsibility for example.
It is a bit like Lord of the Flies except it is down your street on an ordinary day, everyday reality childhood, not on an island, with a rescue back to civilisation to come.
It is an ordinary day, with the possible escape of an Italian PoW to add a moment of excitement, with kids doing ordinary things, with an argument about an apple, a fight, hiding from a throat slitting (possible) Italian, all drifting towards an ordinary tragedy.
The play is written in the distinctive Forest of Dean Gloucestershire accent and the cast do an excellent job of maintaining it while director Jane Lush uses every inch of the small studio to give us fields, a barn and a forest, with scene blending into scene all at a well measured, gentle pace.
The play might be 38 years old but has lost none of its impact and shows no signs of aging. It might be set in 1943 but in truth it is any childhood any time and well acted, as it is here, it is still a telling piece.
The title, incidentally, comes from A.E. Housman's A Shropshire Lad,
Into my heart an air that kills, From yon far country blows: What are those blue remembered hills, What spires, what farms are those?
That is the land of lost content, I see it shining plain, The happy highways where I went And cannot come again.
There are times when your heart goes out to actors. An enormous amount of time and effort goes into learning and rehearsing any production and when the result is as good as this it deserves to be seen by a larger audience than the half full studio midweek. Well worth a look. To 29-04-17