Jason Ham's review
With a script that required adult actors to play seven-year-old children in the West Country, 1943, this was not going to be an easy production to portray on the Strode Theatre stage.
I had seen the script previously (as I'm currently in preparation for myself to be performing the production) so I knew what the drama required. The question was: could adults do the script, mastered wonderfully by Dennis Potter, any justice?
My doubts were soon set to rest as Willie (played by Paul Townsend) leaped onto stage acting out an aeroplane, which in my opinion was slightly a sluggish opening scene.
His characterisation of Willie, with the noises seven-year-old children make, meant that the audience, who were previously quiet, erupted into laughter.
Peter (Phil Turley) also leaped onto the stage in this first scene, a character which rightfully complimented the character of Willie.
|Peter and Willie (PhotoTechnix for Street Theatre)|
Both of these characters set the precedent for the whole production which was to follow - and what a production it was!
Characterisation from all the actors was magnificent. There were plenty of times I was thinking I was seeing seven-year-old children on stage, apart from when I looked at their heights which soon changed my mind!
Another character to note is Donald (played by Gary Marinven) who certainly put a sense of reality throughout all of his scenes and certainly brought those Blue Remembered Hills to flood by for the packed-out audience.
I would also like to mention Bob Prince who provided the audience with a wonderful portrayal of the stuttering Raymond, which is hard to portray at the best of times.
Bob provided the evening with wonderful characterisation, which left me in no doubt that he certainly was 'living' the character not simply going through the motions.
Throughout the production, it was clear that the director, Karen Trevis, had put a lot of work into this production.
If I had one quibble, it would be that in some scenes I was getting quite bored of the characters using, what it seemed, one tone of voice, and using the same volume.
With the fact that the actors were playing seven-year-olds, this factor quite possibly can be excused.
The direction was successful so much it seemed every actor was confident about their character.
Karen should also be thanked as set designer for the simplistic, yet rightfully suitable set.
If only the stage crew didn't talk so loudly when moving the set to distract away from the atmosphere, this would have also been perfect.
Sound and lighting were rightfully brilliant and appropriate for each of the scenes. I especially liked it when the lights changed as the barn was getting turned around by the characters on stage - brilliant!
A special mention should go to Joan Patch for the wonderful costumes which enhanced the performance and appearance of each and every character.
|The cast (PhotoTechnix for Street Theatre)|
This was a truly magnificent production - well done to cast and crew!
A special thanks should go to the cast for allowing my GCSE Drama group to speak to them about the show - this has helped us a lot for us when we perform our own production of Blue Remembered Hills.
This was the first Street Theatre production I have seen, and my first time to the Strode Theatre. I'm certainly going to be coming back for more!
Harry Mottram's review
This was a slick and physical production by Street Theatre of Denis Potter's glimpse into the minds of a group of children.
Set in wartime Gloucestershire, the play was made famous as a BBC TWO 1979 production featuring Helen Mirren, Michael Elphick and Colin Welland.
Reading those names gives the clue to the play's unique draw. Adults play children. They don't play adults looking back as children, but they wear the clothes of 1940s kids and speak and behave as a bunch street urchins. A testing thing to do.
The cast of seven in Karen Trevis's production all found the child within. Rob Prince as Raymond, Gary Makinven as Donald, Sarah Hold as Angela, and Paul Townsend as Willie in particular found the right balance without becoming caricatures of children.
Angela Bell as Audrey was particularly animated, perhaps too animated at times, but has a clear voice and precise movement.
Peter Turley as the main protagonist Peter was strong, but tended to outgun Nigel Webb as John in their physical confrontations, although it is John who comes out on top.
These are very testing roles for any actor, and Karen Trevis coaxed believable performances from all of the cast.
Their interplay in particular was good, and it was evident that the performers had worked hard to retain their characters throughout with crying, grizzling and grimaces all well observed.
The drama centres around the idle chatter, games and niggling rivalries of a group of children playing in the Forest of Dean.
One of them, Donald, becomes isolated from the group and is singled out for bullying. Despite his obvious intelligence Donald is unable to cope with the teasing and the children's games end in a horrific fire.
There is also a sort of power struggle for the number two spot in the gang between Peter and John which is resolved by a fight.
We never see the group's number one boy Wallace, which was a neat parallel of life - of everyone fighting over the lower rungs of life's social ladder.
The set included vertical ladders and a few boxes. Although there was a pram and a symbolic hay barn, the set was bare.
The sub-text is that of a group of children interpreting the adult world around them and trying to behave like grown-ups: with all the failings of their elders.
There is racial and social prejudice, violence, name-calling, ignorance, cheating and social aspiration. Without the safe guards of civil society or the veil of social niceties, the dark side of humanity is quickly revealed.
Just as in Golding's Lord of the Flies, Potter's children turn into savages, killing a squirrel in an orgy of violence and being extremely unpleasant to each other.
Who is who in the pecking order of their social group seems to be of the utmost importance to them, and anyone who doesn't fit into this structure is bullied and picked upon.
The play has much humour and is an accurate portrayal of children - hence its enduring popularity. Street Theatre's production accentuated the humour and physical falling about.
At times this was extremely effective, but at others, the sheer physicality and an irresistible urge by some of the cast to play up their child roles to the audience meant there was unexpected and unwanted laughter.
|The cast (PhotoTechnix for Street Theatre)|
Perhaps the weakness of the production was the space. The Strode is a huge stage, and Blue Remembered Hills is really an intimate piece of work more suited to a studio area.
The clumping of the actors' shoes and boots on the stage detracted from their audibility, and the stage was not used to its full potential.
In general it was left as a huge space, with the ladders not really utilised. It was left to the imagination of the audience to see the Forest of Dean.
The action did come down into the audience at times, and the actors used a small apron at the front of the stage in one scene to create a sense of intimacy which worked well.
It should also be pointed out that, although the cast did not all have Gloucestershire accents, they did all keep their West Country vowels throughout. Something that professional actors sometimes fail to achieve.