Blue Remembered Hills

Dennis Potter
Northern Stage
Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford

David Nellist as Willie

Potter's story would seem like a simple tale of an idyllic childhood, free to roam the Forest of Dean and hills of Shropshire and the children without a care in the world.

But this is 1943, the middle of World War Two, brought to our attention at the beginning with Willy pretending to be an aeroplane as it plunges to the ground and he lies 'dead', while his friend Peter spends time jumping from anything high enough to practise for his intended future as a parachutist, like his Dad.

Two more boys arrive, but they are playing Cowboys and Indians, still a war game (that's boys for you) but more in the realms of history, and do they still play that game today? Would it be allowed? No political correctness at that time.

Two girls come on the scene, Angela and Audrey, with Angela being very much the one in charge. Well she has the pram and the 'babby', but that Audrey is a little minx and adept at causing trouble and friction—and she does. Their talk is very amusing as they are playing 'Mummies and Daddies' with a dialogue and attitudes obviously taken from their parents. The fifth boy, a quiet and cowed Donald, has been coerced into being the husband.

The attitude of the adults has filtered down to the children too: their fear of the enemy of course, but during play a lot is revealed about their family, and some disturbing facts come to light. In some cases it is not only the war that they have to fear.

Children are more direct than adults. They haven't acquired a veneer (sometimes false) of politeness and concern for another's feelings, so taunts, jeers and fights are constantly breaking out, but the play is amusing and fascinating as it reminds the audience of episodes from their own childhood.

Beautifully presented and simply staged (Ruari Murchison) with a grassy bank and blue backdrop which changes to scrubland and a forest with the benefit of Colin Grenfell's lighting, the only prop is an enormous stepladder, which becomes whatever is needed (including a barn where the abused Donald is trapped) just as children use their imaginations to create anything from whatever is to hand.

The cast (James Bolt, Phil Cheadle, Tilly Gaunt, Adrian Grove, Joanna Holden, David Nellist and Christopher Pricer) are superb, with incredible energy as they run, jump, slide, roll and fight (the boys again), never losing the meaning or feeling of the dialogue and never losing their West Country accents.

Originally written as a television play but now adapted for the theatre where it seems to give a more intimate and immediate meaning to the text, Psyche Stott's production is a fascinating and thoughtful theatrical experience and one to be treasured.

Touring to Watford, Oxford, Poole, Richmond and Derby.

Reviewer: Sheila Connor