Blue Remembered Hills
Northern Stage, Newcastle
I had forgotten just how good a writer Dennis Potter was.
Yes, I remember very well the excitement of Pennies from Heaven and its ground-breaking new form, the intensely personal The Singing Detective, his Nigel Barton political plays, the “shock horror” that greeted Brimstone and Treacle, and all the rest of his work, including that memorable interview with Melvyn Bragg, but it was the themes, the formal experiments and the excitement of a “new Dennis Potter” which I remembered. It took watching Blue Remembered Hills these 34 years later to remind me how compelling and utterly convincing his dialogue is and how he gets so completely under the skin of his characters.
If that gives the impression that I enjoyed Psyche Stott’s sensitive production for Northern Stage, it would be a tad misleading: I didn’t just enjoy it, I loved it.
And so did the audience. OK, it was the opening night of the company’s first major production of the year and many of the great and good of the North East theatre scene were there, but it wasn’t just old stagers like myself who responded so well. I chatted to a number of young actors who had been born a decade or more after the original TV production in 1979 and they found it equally exciting.
However this portrait of a group of 7-year-olds and their view of the world in which they live (it’s 1943 and we are in the depths of the Second World War), their highs and lows, their friendships and fallings-out, their boundless energy, all so acutely observed and accurately reproduced in the writing, would count for nothing without equally committed and sensitive performances and this cast—James Bolt, Phil Cheadle, Tilly Gaunt, Adrian Grove, Joanna Holden, David Nellist and Christopher Price—more than measure up.
Ruari Murchison’s design—a very simple hillside set with a tall ladder to represent trees or buildings—and accurate costumes (I remember wearing clothes exactly the same just a few years later!), coupled with Colin Grenfell’s lighting and Rob Brown’s evocative sound, complete a really enjoyable, moving and (yes, I’ll say it, cliché though it may be) life-affirming night at the theatre.
And all in just over an hour, without interval.
Definitely a production not to be missed, not just in Newcastle but in Liverpool, Guildford, Watford, Oxford, Poole, Richmond and Derby where it tours until 20th June.
Reviewer: Peter Lathan