Blue Remembered Hills

May 16 2024 | By | Reply More

★★★☆☆     Challenging

Church Hill Theatre: Wed 15 – Sat 18 May 2024
Review by Hugh Simpson

Leitheatre’s Blue Remembered Hills at the Church Hill is nasty and short. Which is exactly what is intended.

Originally shown on BBC’s Play For Today in 1979, Dennis Potter’s play deals with the adventures and misadventures of a group of seven children in the Forest of Dean on a summer’s day during the Second World War.

Liza Shackleton, Lee Shedden, Jennie Davidson, John Moore and Des Linton. Pic: Marion Donohoe

Famously, Potter stipulated that the children had to be played by adults, a tactic he used on a couple of other occasions. This eliminates any possibility of the characters appearing sweet or charming, in a story that has a decidedly bleak outlook.

The title, from A.E. Housman’s A Shropshire Lad, suggests a rose-tinted view of childhood, which can only be seen ironically in view of what happens here. An obvious subscriber to Larkin’s dictum, ‘man hands on misery to man’, Potter shows children without any sentimentality. Using examples taught them by the adults in their lives, and by the war that is going on, they are every bit as callous and cruel as their elders.

The set-up of the play always makes huge demands on cast and director. Too often, ‘grown-up’ performers think that the way to depict children is just to muck about and be as silly as possible.


There is none of that here, and director Lynne Morris has done an excellent job with the cast in this regard. The beginning is a largely silent couple of minutes, featuring John Moore (Willie), who possibly inhabits the character of a seven-year-old best of all. This sets the scene for a well-thought-out production.

However, it is noticeable (and almost certainly unavoidable) that there is a lack of uniformity among the cast about how exactly to depict children. This is particularly prominent in the use of gesture; some of them do a bit too much, while some of them are a shade underplayed, which does have a certain distancing effect.

Liza Shackleton, Mike Paton and Jennie Davidson. Pic: Marion Donohoe.

The individual performances are very fine, however. Alan Patterson as swaggering bully Peter, Lee Shedden as his rival John, and Des Linton as stuttering would-be cowboy Raymond, all have the necessary combination of braggadocio and insecurity.

Jennie Davidson (Angela) and Liza Shackleton (Audrey) have an excellent line in displaying the shifting allegiances of youngsters. Mike Paton, meanwhile, is heartbreaking as Donald, the object of the others’ bullying and equally abused at home.

Those three have a scene which shows most clearly the effect of their elders’ behaviour on their own. Showing adults playing children playing at being adults, these moments have a deceptively complex nature that shows once again that this play is far from the simple tale it appears.

The passage of time has given further ambiguities to its reluctance to be nostalgic. For a modern audience, used to children hardly being allowed out on their own, let alone wander the woods all day, there must be mixed feelings about watching such freedom (which surely did not always end as it does here).

the costumes are impeccable

The praiseworthy determination to avoid going over the top does make things a little too stately at times. The piece’s roots in TV are obvious as it moves from one place to another, breaking up the flow.

However, much here is well done. Stephen Hajducki’s set makes the movement from one location to another painless, and Mark Hajducki’s lighting is clever, with one particularly fine effect. Norma Malcolm’s costumes are impeccable, which helps with the overall atmosphere.

This is a brave choice for an amateur company in many ways. Far from being a feelgood show, it is not an obvious crowd-pleaser and has no local links. It is also too short to attract those who believe in getting every possible minute of stage time for their money – or anyone who depends on interval bar sales.

So congratulations to Leitheatre for taking it on and making a go of it. It certainly leaves the nasty taste in the mouth that Potter surely intended.

Running time: One hour (no interval)
Church Hill Theatre, 30 Morningside Rd, EH10 4DR
Wednesday 15 – Saturday 18 May 2024
Wed-Fri at 7.30 pm; Sat 2.30 pm
Information and tickets: Book here.

Leitheatre Website:
Facebook: @Leitheatre
Instagram: @leitheatre
X: @leitheatreedin

Mike Paton, Alan Patterson, Liza Shackleton, John Moore, Lee Shedden, Jennie Davidson and Des Linton. Pic Marion Donohoe


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