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Fandango Theatre Company


Blue Remembered Hills

 



by Dennis Potter

 


Directed by Jamie Honeybourne

 


Union Theatre


September 30 – 18 October, 2008

 

 

 

 

THE IMPOSTERSary Couzens

A review by Mary Couzens for EXTRA! EXTRA!

 

Blue Remembered Hills is one of Dennis Potter’s most beloved plays. First shown as a BBC Play for Today in 1979, it reflects on childhood loyalties and cruelties among a group of seven year olds circa 1943 in war time Britain during the course of one day. However, it’s themes of inherent selfishness, false pride and power struggles among friends still ring true, as do its seven characters, each of whom seems to function as a different type of person, as opposed to being a person in their own right.


Matt Hudson’s sparse but topical set greets us as we enter the theatre, with its simple backdrop of blue sky with fluffy white clouds, as one might see painted onto the ceiling of a nursery, and farming implements, such as a pail and milking stool all painted an innocent, generic white. Throughout the performance, the sounds are authentic to the play’s time period - extracts from overridingly optimistic radio broadcasts like the Ovaltineys’ theme song and popular numbers like ‘Happy Days Are Here Again’ and anti-German songs like Spike Jones’ – ‘Der Fuerher’s Face.’


Alan Gibbons is the first actor we see and he is one of the most convincing in this production. His turn as Willie is so cryptically accurate and true to childish form that it is almost painful to watch. We’d all like to think we were great as little kids, but Gibbons as Willie makes us realise we probably weren’t. When it comes to wits against brawn, Willie wins hands down, even if he has to lie to do so. Funny how that notion makes one realise that in attempting to get your own way by using your wits to control the outcome of a situation, you are actually drawing on the childish sides of yourself to do so, which is generally the opposite of how we tend to view such situations as adults. Gibbons’ expressions and actions as Willie are simply priceless. It wasn’t surprising to learn that he has been both a stand up comedian and a pantomime dame, as sharp powers of observation would be required to do either successfully.

Laura Hooper as Angela and Alan Gibbons as Willie

Jamie Kenna almost seems to play stereotypical bully Peter with a vengeance, throwing himself around the performance space, drawing himself up like a cock of the walk to challenge the other boys. Kenna was also very enjoyable as Max Miller at the Union a few years back in The Cheekie Chappie. As bully-boy Peter, he almost makes it seem as though his sadistic streak even comes as a surprise to him. Laura Hooper and Carol Robb are also both well cast in their roles as ‘pretty girl’ Angela and her tubby tomboy sidekick, Audrey. Hopper’s Angela is almost as sinister as she is too good to be true, Shirley Temple style and Robb might put you in mind of then younger Dawn French in French and Saunders’ infamous Famous Five spoof. Potter’s keen writing sensibilities come to the fore here, with the angelic looking Angela employing Audrey as her pit bull/lap dog, even encouraging her to challenge the boys.

 




The same dynamics of power shifting occur between all of the male characters, with Will Stoney, as sensitive Raymond, wearing a sheriff’s badge and a holster with a toy pistol in it, saying a prayer for forgiveness after a cruel act, and Andrew Obeney as John duking it out with the bully Peter for the gang leader’s slot. However, the most intriguing character, and the one who wears the shame in this play’s sensitive storyline is Donald, beautifully played by a very emotive Dan Paton. The dynamics explored through abused child Donald are conveyed by Paton both physically and emotionally to the point where he commands attention via his believability in the role and also, marks himself out as an actor to watch out for in future.


In Blue Remembered Hills, Potter’s writing is typically refreshing (despite it’s dark subject matter) and surprising for its succinctness and truthfulness, featuring as it does, children who display all the inborn characteristics inherent to shamelessly manipulative adults. As such, it also mirrors everyday activities like the way in which children verbally mime their parent’s beliefs on everything from what constitutes gender parameters to racism, as well as what is seen as acceptable levels of abuse in regard to themselves and others. Potter also employs the device of the absent, yet ever present character, in this case, one Wallace Wilson, who seems to be the pinnacle of what a boy should be both to male and female characters alike. Politically correct this play is not, however, accurate, in terms of how people spoke then, (and perhaps, now) it definitely is. The children’s offhanded cruelty in terms of language and actions may be viewed perhaps as their way of acting out the type of talk being heard on the streets during wartime in relation to what one might do to the enemy.


It isn’t often that I feel inclined to take my hat off to casting directors in regard to fringe productions, but in this case, whoever has done the casting deserves top marks for considering physicality as well as looks and capability when casting Potter’s childish characters, for those chosen make their characters metaphoric actions seem chillingly credible. Which, brings us to one of the playwright’s major points, the deliberate casting of adults as children, something which generally tends to make many theatre-goers cringe. Rather than act as a deterrent in this play, this phenomena promises to inspire after show reflections, both backwards and forwards, as to what type of child we may have been ourselves, and/or what childhood tendencies, good or bad might still be part of who we are today as adults. The fact that this production, which marks Fandango Theatre Company’s premiere, actually manages to deliver on that promise signifies that this is one production you shouldn’t miss.

 

 

 

Union Theatre
Union St, SE1 OLX

Box Office: 020 7261 9876

Times: Tue-Sat 7.30pm; Sat 3pm
Price: £12, concs £10, Tue £9
Tube: Southwark
www.uniontheatre.org

 

 

 

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