I knew nothing about Blue Remembered Hills before I set off to the theatre. I didn’t know anything more as the house lights dimmed and hush fell over the audience. That’s fine. Sometimes I love not knowing what I’m about to see, and sometimes like Blue Remembered Hills, little gems of shows unexpectedly pop up.
Blue Remembered Hills follows a group of seven year olds going about their daily lives amidst the backdrop of World War II. Essentially the play follows the gang just being seven year olds; playing, teasing and competing. The children run riot in the woods; we see a group of boys trap a squirrel and kill it in a tribal, frenzied manner. Relationships, friendships and leadership battles are all played out and the show suddenly becomes a study of the constantly-shifting childhood politics, clearly paralleled with the politics of the adult world. It all gets a little bit ‘Lord of the Flies’ and it is clear from pretty much the outset that things are going to take a sinister turn.
As the actors first ran onto the stage I sighed. Adults playing children; it’s bound to be trite and irritating. However, it is clear these actors have worked hard to accurately mirror the intricate gestures of children. The amount of research time spent in a primary school is clearly evident. From bum-scratching to inexhaustible energy, the actors nailed it. It was a shock to see their black and white photos in the programming following the show; I can only imagine the characters as their seven year old selves.
It’s a clever device – you know the actors are adults but you can’t see them as anything other than children. Writer Dennis Potter wanted to portray a ‘remembered story’; remembered through the subjective eyes of the characters at a later date. Director Psyche has perfectly fulfilled the brief and clever movement direction and use of costume adds to the effect.
Ruari Murchison’s set paired with Colin Grenfell’s lighting creates a brilliant backdrop for the show. The actors fly up and down a grey-grassy verge and an oversized ladder becomes a barn – a protective shelter for a child with an unhappy home-life, left out of the gang. The children frolic in the woods and relax silhouetted on the hill. It’s beautifully simple and effective and utilised brilliantly as the play hurtles towards its brutal finale.
Standout performances for me have to go to the female characters. Tilly Gaunt was wonderful as mother hen with an eye for the boys, Angela, unable to leave home without her ‘babby’ and Joanna Holden portrayed a fabulous Audrey with a booky exterior but a hidden, feisty personality.
The piece is short and sweet, only an hour straight through. Strangely enough it’s the piece writer Dennis Potter received the most acclaim for. Staged almost twenty years after the writer’s death, Northern Stage’s take on this BAFTA winning play doesn’t disappoint. Definitely worth catching at Derby Theatre before it closes this Saturday!
Next at Derby Theatre, you can see The Birmingham Stage Company‘s James and the Giant Peach from Tuesday 2nd – Saturday 6th July.