Compton Players - Blue Remembered Hills
20th to 23rd April 2016.
Review from NODA.
Blue Remembered Hills was originally a TV production that tells the story of a gang of seven year olds larking about in the summer of 1943. The author, Dennis Potter, insisted that the roles were played by adults as the complexity and depth of the dialogue would be impossible for seven year old children to play. It is a short but enormously thought provoking and disturbing play about human cruelty and takes its title from A E Houseman’s A Shropshire Lad.
Front of House: The hall was laid out in the round using the hall floor as well as the stage. There was good visibility all round and plenty of leg-room. The front of house team was welcoming and helpful.
The programme: The A5 programme was well constructed and had all the relevant information. The welcome to new members was encouraging but it would be nice to have a telephone number as well as web address and e.mail.
Scenery/Set/Properties: The set was amazing and had been well crafted using the hall floor as the woodland, large tree and the stage set out as the interior and exterior of the barn. The set artwork was of the highest quality with great attention to detail. Angela’s pram brought back many memories for my companion: a child in the 40s.
Make-up and hair: The make-up and hair was appropriate throughout.
Costume: A great deal of trouble had gone into ensuring each character was appropriately dressed and made up immaculately with grubby socks, muddy knees and short trousers.
Lighting, sound and special effects: The lighting was effective and the special effects – the barn fire – was spectacular and well managed.
The Production: The essential characterisations of each cast member was well developed and each character maintained their persona throughout. The play opened with Nick Roberts’ lovely aeroplane impression, dive bombing through the audience. H Connolly played Donald with great poignancy, put upon to amuse the others with his attempts at duck sounds. There were no weak links in this excellent production and we soon forgot that they were adults playing children. Eric Saxton’s production was appealing and really drew the audience in. The design, direction and performers provided the audience with an evening of dark nostalgia of the highest possible standard.
DISTRICT 14 REPRESENTATIVE, NODA SOUTH EAST
Review from Oxfordshire Drama Network.
I had doubts about this play, when I heard that it was adults playing 7 year olds, but those doubts quickly evaporated when the play got underway. The cast skilfully portrayed the group of children and we became convinced with their characters. Accents were good and maintained throughout, giving emphasis to the childhood humour. Willie (Nick Roberts) displaying the childlike traits of awkward hand gestures and fiddling with his clothing was a good start, closely followed by Peter (Pete Watts) the local bully, who, typically, resorted to cowardice when bullying did not work after his fight with John (Dave Hawkins). John was the more serious member of the group and challenges the cheating Peter, whilst being protective of the stammering Raymond (Phil Prior). Raymond was played sympathetically for his slight affliction and perceived immaturity compared to the rest of the group.
Angela (Tracey Pearce) and her friend Audrey (Jasmine Gartshore) befriend the lonely and mocked Donald (H Connolly) in the barn, where he eventually meets his demise. Donald is desperately unhappy because his father is a Japanese prisoner of war. He seeks solace in the company of the girls rather than being accepted as part of the boy’s gang. Donald’s solitary playing with matches, which result in the fire was very poignant and the fire scene was very effective. This could have been enhanced if the fire effect had been maintained, even though the action had moved to the round, where recriminations and excuses were being explored. This would emphasise the seriousness and ongoing nature of the disaster.
Playing the majority of the action in the round was a clever use of space and gave the cast room to run, play, fight and express themselves, using the stage for the barn. The area below the stage was ingeniously used as a hiding place when they were frightened on hearing the escapee siren from the POW camp.
Interaction was good between all of the cast members. Peter’s fights with John and with Audrey were well staged and difficult when you are inches from the audience.
The play was well cast and enjoyed by all. Congratulations to the Director, Eric Saxton.
Review from the Newbury Weekly News.
Finding the inner child
Compton Players: Blue Remembered Hills, at Compton Village Hall, from Wednesday, April 20 to Saturday, April 23
Blue Remembered Hills (by Dennis Potter), in one hour, tells the story of a gang of children and the spiralling events of a day at play. It’s a risky show, given that adult actors play as children, but if done right it leads the audience on a rollercoaster ride of whimsicality and disturbance.
Compton Players took on this challenge and exceeded expectations. Upon arrival, the set was in-the-round with carpets strewn across the floor to mimic rolling fields. A tree doubled as a climbing frame ensured actors could make quirky entrances and Donald Duck’s infamous shed was impressively constructed on stage with excellent special effects and lighting for the fatal fire (Paul Shave).
Willie was the first on stage (played by Nick Roberts with energy and exuberance that defies his age!), lighting up the stage with aeroplane sound effects, engaging the audience from the get go. He was joined by Peter (Pete Watt) who struck the balance of menacing bully and insecure imbecile in a delightful portrayal. Sometimes uncomfortably nasty, Pete used humorous physicality to rein it in at the right moments.
H Connolly portrayed the tragic Donald Duck exceedingly well – sweetly, and yet his physicality in solo moments told of the character’s deep trauma and disturbance. Even alone, he was engaging to watch. Angela (Tracey Pearce) and Audrey (Jasmine Gartshore) made a humorous comic duo as they whinged through the show, niggling each other on their ‘best friend’ status.
Last but not least, John (Dave Hawkins) and Raymond (Phil Prior) made an excellent addition to the show. Raymond’s sweet nature and expert stutter ensured the audience could really empathise with him, and his excellent costume added to the character’s vulnerability. Dave Hawkins cut a hilariously gaddish yet gallant rival to Peter, and their fight scene was a particular highlight of the show, with excellent facial expressions.
Directed by Eric Saxton, this show was a real achievement. The space was used brilliantly and imaginatively and the pace and characterisation points to a strong vision from Eric. He managed to bring out the inner child in all seven actors to make it a whirlwind, yet haunting show (though I wonder how much persuasion the cast needed).