BLUE REMEMBERED HILLS
by Dennis Potter.
Tour to 29 June 2013.
Runs 1hr No interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 4 June at Oxford Playhouse.
A short evening likely to make theatregoers very content.
Who’d have thought a TV play in which wartime children in the Forest of Dean are played by adults would become a popular theatre piece?
In theatre cross-age casting can be a convenient convention, unlike ever-realistic television. Yet in Dennis Potter’s piece, as any production should make plain – Psyche Stott’s for this Northern Stage tour out of Newcastle-upon-Tyne certainly does – the adult actors are not trying to create the illusion of real children.
It’s vital we know they are adults, simultaneously perceiving adult actor and child character, heightening the comedy of children recreating adult speech and manners. Even if they don’t fully understand it, they sense this adult world will one day be theirs.
While war rages, the children of this rural Gloucestershire area imitate the aircraft and carry on their own little wars, using imitation of grown-ups to disguise fear and embarrassment amid their bravado.Potter clearly suggests that adults also use bluster, evasion and distraction to cover awkward situations.
Here, it all takes place against a greyed-out grassy bank, suggesting the “land of lost content” to which A E Housman’s A Shropshire Lad refers a couple of lines after the one from which Potter took his title, is already becoming a place of future nostalgia. Projections turn it into a wooded area. Only a tall ladder standing for a tree seems false as it’s hauled on and off.
Yet it allows the sense of childhood imagination, as a boy slides down its ‘trunk’ pretending he’s parachuting. There are strong visual moments, as when another lad holds up his braces to create the sense of a parachute harness. And a startling one where two girls’ attack on a weak boy is suddenly paralleled by the other lads killing a squirrel. For violence and threat mounts till, as among animal tribes, the weakest is ejected.
A tall bully faces-up to, then backs way from, a fight into which he’s later forced. Young Donald argues when girls use his nickname, but acts up to it with the other boys, making it clear status, like conflict, is ingrained in Potter’s young humanity.
Raymond: James Bolt.
John: Phil Cheadle.
Angela: Tilly Gaunt.
Donald: Adrian Grove.
Audrey: Joanna Holden.
Willie: David Nellist.
Peter: Christopher Price.
Director: Psyche Stott.
Designer: Ruari Murchison.
Lighting: Colin Grenfell.
Sound: Rob Brown.
Composer: Olly Fox.
Dialect coach: Samantha Pye.
Fight director: Paul Benzing.
Assistant director: Rachel Oliver.