Blue Remembered Hills

Wed 1st – Sat 4th March 2017

reviews

Clare Cavenagh

at 11:22 on 3rd Mar 2017

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Blue Remembered Hills depicts the adventures on one afternoon of a group of young children, playing in the woods. Much of their chatter and many of their games are familiar, but some are not - the children's games are set against the backdrop of the Second World War, and this affects their actions and shapes their play: they pretend to shoot one another, they watch spitfires pass overhead, they worry they'll be attacked by an escaped PoW.

The children are, of course, played by a cast of 20-year-olds, and in some cases this is very convincing. Elise Hagan as Willie is fantastic to watch, careening about the stage with huge, leaping steps brimming with energy, laughing with her whole body, looking about her wide-eyed. It's easy to believe that she's an excited seven-year-old on a day in the woods. For some other character/actor combinations, the seams weren't so neat, but this produced its own interesting effects. Peter and John, played by Max Harrison and Joe Tyler Todd respectively (both of them tall, solid men) were engaging and sometimes quite frightening to watch. The rough-and-tumble of children's play, with its wrestling and physical spats became unnerving when it took the form of Joe Tyler Todd pinning the petite Elise Hagan to the floor, forcing her to surrender her apple.

The set was simple, dead branches hung with paper aeroplanes representing the forest where the children play, and large wooden doors serving as the barn at the back of the stage. The treatment of what is a subtle and complex play was simple also, and this is perhaps the main flaw of this production of Blue Remembered Hills. The ways in which the war influences the children's play, driving them to a few surprising acts of violence (we all mourn the mime-squirrel), making them cower in terror at the threat of an escaped prisoner, while present were not emphasized. Even as the children cried and hid from the mysterious escaped Italian, the audience never seriously shared their fear. Perhaps more emphasis on the darker elements of the play might have made this production a little more thematically and tonally interesting, given it more of an edge. It would certainly have taken away the slight edge of farce which crept into the otherwise harrowing ending.

Blue Remembered Hills is an interesting play, and there were some great performances from the cast. It was nostalgic and charming, at many points a pleasure to watch. But in spite of the material provided by the script, the production never really transcended this charm. Darker elements were glossed over, things that menaced the children did not menace the audience, and the ending came as a shock so terrible that the quick escalation into violence and death carried shades of humour.

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