Sunday, October 2

Blue Remembered Hills – The Daneside Theatre

After a long period of ‘resting’, the Congleton Players are back in business and begin their season with a Dennis Potter play.  The ‘Blue Remembered Hills’ began its life as a television play broadcast in 1979, in the days when the BBC broadcast plays for the TV.   Potter came up with the idea that this story of seven children should be played by adults, an idea that he first tried in his play ‘Stand Up, Nigel Barton’.   Set in the Forest of Dean in the Summer of 1943, wartime lurks in the background and tells of the life of a group of children, trying to be young and carefree, but with the knowledge that their life has changed and the innocence of their youth is a mere reflection in the eyes of the adults inhabiting their personas.

As we enter the theatre, the stage is presented with grass and woodland debris and as the play begins, our first impressions are of a young boy called Willie (Simeon Green), playing army in the woods, using a stick as a pretend gun and as he hears the sound of a plane flying overhead, he falls down playing dead.  A stark reminder that Willie understands war, even though he is only seven.  He is soon joined by his friend Peter (Robin Jackson), the bully who tries to lead his friends astray with his ideas of naughtiness in his quest for jam jar empties to take back to the shop for money, killing squirrels and, has anyone got any matches?  Poor Raymond (Michael Schenck) seems to be more sensitive than the other boys, dressed in his cowboy outfit and carrying his toy gun, his stutter makes him the butt of jokes.  The two girls Angela (Louise Colohan), and Audrey (Niamh Brazier) are typical girls of the 1940’s, playing house, pushing their dolls pram, and planning who they are going to marry when they grow up. 

The genius of the writing encourages a playfulness from the performers which is engaging to watch.   Aside from the wonderful comedic moments in the play, there is a darker side which is played out by a very unhappy boy who has been nick-named Donald Duck (John Beech).  His character is an easy target for a bully, his lack of self confidence is evident, and apart from the cruel way the boys tease him, his life seems to be particularly sad.  Beech communicates this little boy’s anxiety so well, that it is easy to forget he is an adult, playing the role of a child. 

The play as a whole has an authentic 1940’s feel and the production team have done well to create this with the props by Wendy McKie, set design by Andy Millington and team, which incorporates the backdrop of projected moving images which makes the leap between this being a play written for television, shot entirely on location; to being successfully adapted for the stage.  Simon Matthews’ guiding hand as director, also takes on the additional duties of photography and sound, which add to the whole sensory experience.  I won’t give the ending away, but as an audience member, the final scene was both tragic and emotional.  Dennis Potter’s play is very clever at putting the adult into the centre of a children’s story to see how a child sees the adult world, and Congleton Players have done a remarkable job of pulling this simple but challenging play together.  Live theatre is back in Congleton, support your local theatre!

The play runs until the 9th October, and for further information and tickets go to http://www.danesidetheatre.co.uk/wo_detail

Reviewer: Caroline Worswick

Reviewed: 5th October 2021

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★

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