This adaptation of the 1979 Dennis Potter TV play (which starred Helen Mirren) gives us a childhood haunted by the Second World War and the spectre of adulthood. Storm clouds loom over the blue remembered hills of A.E. Housman’s Shropshire Lad as the actions of a group of seven-year-olds lead to tragedy.
The production opens the Theatre on the Fly season, an ambitious project celebrating 50 years of theatre in Chichester. Over three months, a temporary performance space erected in the park will host plays, music and cabaret.
Director Anna Ledwich uses the structure brilliantly, turning the surrounding bucolic landscape into an extension of the stage by dropping the back wall. Characters chase each other in the distance like memories brought to life. Inside, they clamber up wooden walls as if in a massive playpen.
The mingling of striking practical effects with the changing light outside is powerfully evocative. And Potter’s Lord of the Flies-esque play captures well the casual nastiness of children and their sponge-like absorption of adult prejudices. But the slightness of the plot sees the production meander in the middle.
The conceit (carried over from the TV version) of having adults play the children also feels stretched at times. When it works, it neatly foreshadows the future. But it is difficult to act young and not all of the cast pull it off. However, Ryan Early as snivelling, blazer-wearing Willie is brilliant.
Blue Remembered Hills has shortcomings as a play but this production superbly demonstrates what Theatre on the Fly can do.
First published by The Argus