Blue Remembered Hills (review)

Blue Remembered Hills
Blue Remembered Hills
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In a time long forgotten, when children possessed an imagination not crushed by new technology and health and safety restrictions, children played games of cowboys and Indians, pirates, heroes and villains. They could be fighter pilots or nurses. The world was their oyster.

But sometimes the darker side of childhood resulted in tragedy and Dennis Potter’s Blue Remembered Hills is a stark warning to what can happen when there’s too much freedom.

Blue Remembered Hills. Photo by Topher McGrillis.

Blue Remembered Hills. Photo by Topher McGrillis.

Written originally for BBC’s Play For Today it won awards galore and featured adult actors, including Helen Mirren and Michael Elphick, cast in the roles of children.

Northern Stage brought its stage version to Watford Palace Theatre for four nights last week, before continuing on its national tour, and the production was thought-provoking, utterly compelling - and short.

It was so short that people had hardly got their coats off and settled into their seats before the cast were taking their curtain call. The audience looked at their collective watches. Was that it? Yes, all 55 minutes of it.

Perhaps the idea will catch on. David Mamet’s work rarely runs past 90 minutes. But I wasn’t the only one who felt robbed (although, thinking about it logically, it was written for a one-hour TV slot).

Despite its brevity Blue Remembered Hills is a story that packs a powerful punch and is wonderfully acted by a cast of seven.

It’s set in a rural backwater in The Forest of Dean during the Second World War where we follow the antics of a group of young children (with lovely yokel accents) at play.

It all seems idyllic until you remember that nothing is quite what it seems in Potter-world. There are the usual spats between the bullying Peter and the rest; Raymond, dressed as a cowboy, has a stutter so he comes in for a ribbing and so too does Willie who’s the token fat boy while John works up the courage to stand up to Peter.

Among the girls pretty Angela lords it over plain looking Audrey. And then there’s poor Donald who is teased mercilessly by the gang.

There’s a sense of forboding throughout. You know something bad’s going to happen but you’re not sure what until the last few moments.

Every one of the cast - James Bol(Raymond), Phil Cheadle (John), David Nellist (Willie), Adrian Grove (Donald), Christopher Price (Peter) Tilly Gaunt (Angela) and Joanna Holden (Audrey) - gets in touch with their inner child to come up with some remarkable performances. You quickly forget that they’re adults in short trousers.

Blue Remembered Hills opens at Oxford Playhouse today (Tuesday) and runs until Saturday. For tickets call the box office 01865 305305 or visit www.oxfordplayhouse.com

@LBOanne