“Blue Remembered Hills” by Dennis Potter
Lace Market Theatre Studio, Nottingham.
Lace Market Theatre Studio, Nottingham.
Originally set in the Forest of Dean back in 1943, Potter’s play shows the innocence of children, but also just how cruel children can be. The seven year olds fantasise about what their fathers are doing in the war and then ganging up on the weaker members of the group, bullying and being nasty. There are no adults present and all the children are played by adults, a theme that was done in “Lord Of The Flies” of course.
Easy going Willie tags along as Peter bullies Raymond about his stutter, and is challenged by John. Plain Audrey is overshadowed by Angela's prettiness and wreaks her anger on the boys. All of them gang up on the terrified "Donald Duck" who, abused by his mother and ridiculed by his peers, decides to play a different, very dangerous game…..
Although only about an hour long, and being about a group of seven year olds who are all friends, the simplicity belies quite a disturbing play about how nasty kids can be, and I suppose as adults, we filter our memories of being a child and how we acted. Potter obviously didn’t have that filter.
The opening is a piece of film, shot in black and white, which show the actors in character playing in a field and woods, just like any group of friends. This introduction really takes you back to the days of innocence, and sadly scenes we no longer see in today's world of technology.
From the start we see the bullying and how often we remember that when we want something that someone else has, once we have it, we find we don’t want it any more, for whatever reason. This is something that isn’t just credited to kids. From that starting point, the play shatters any sentimentality of childhood. What is also interesting is the image that children have of adults and the way they are seen through the eyes of a child.
This play will have you laughing one minute and then, like a slap in the face, will have you shocked.
As a cast they all gelled and it was completely believable that they were friends with no one actor outshining the other. You also stop seeing the characters as adults playing kids and see the characters as the children they are meant to be.
Edward Pickering-Symes (Willie) plays your typical seven year old. Slightly naughty and mischievous but when the chips are down just a frightened little boy. Willie's childish laugh is infectious.
Sue Lee (Peter) is deliciously evil and seems to get great joy out of hurting others in either a physical or mental way.
Richard Whitehorn (John) is one of the boys you want in your gang. Full of gung ho with no fear.
James Whitby (Raymond) plays the simple and slightly ignorant character. Raymond's stutter being the target of the bullying, and all the while Raymond lets it go over his head, mainly it seems because he wants to belong. Again though, not an easy watch seeing this boy being ridiculed for something he has no control over. A nice controlled performance.
Clare Moss (Angela) gets to play the "girly-girl" with her pram and wanting to be "mum". Clare's facial expressions and voice are joyful to behold.
Mo Pickering-Symes (Audrey) is the opposite of Clare's character, but she is a fighter who knows that she belongs in the "gang" but has to make her presence felt, The scene where she is asking about being Angela's best friend highlights that she would do anything to be a BFF!
David Watts (Donald Duck) plays the most pitiful character. There's one scene which really does get to you where he is alone and really missing his dad. The end scene is also a bit of a shocker. For anyone, like me who didn't know this play and have never seen the TV play or read the book, will find these scenes quite harrowing.
From watching this cast, I also think that they all enjoyed recessing back to being a seven year old kid.
Directed by David Dunford, he has embraced the whole child like thing and obviously made sure that all of his cast have also embraced all of those little things that kids do. the playing with the shorts, the nose-picking, the swaggering and the childish facial expressions that kids do. Everything has been so well observed and utilised.
Lighting Design by Max Bromley with Sound Design by Matthew Allcock. There is no set but you don't need one when you have a technical team like this pair and the Director to create the image and feel of what is happening. From the woodland sounds, to the planes and the ending which, through the lighting and sound design, really makes you feel what the others were experiencing.
I've always said that through light and sound, you can create any feeling for the audience. Max and Matthew proved this to be true.
People who know me will know that I love a good accent, I can do a few myself - or so I think, but this cast were consistent with their regional accent, which all added to the realism of the era as well as geographical area.The language is also a dream.
I've already mentioned that this is my first time seeing this play, but I know that it won't be my last - thank you Youtube. But it is this lovely, slightly dark production of Potter's play that has given me this newly discovered love for "Blue Remembered Hills".
This first play of the new season has set my theatrical juices flowing for what is going to be an excellent Lace Market Theatre season. What a wonderful start!
“Blue Remembered Hills” is at the Lace Market Theatre Studio until Saturday 22 September 2018.