Before this evening, I had no frame of reference for Dennis Potter’s Blue Remembered Hills, unlike, it seemed, much of the audience – the older members who had watched the 1979 TV version, the group of students in the back of the stalls who were studying the play at school. Northern Stage’s production was an ideal introduction.
Walking into the Oxford Playhouse auditorium, I was struck by the sparse greyness of the set – a plain screen as the backdrop, a carpeted hill sloping down to the footlights. Against this blank canvas, the colours of the children’s clothes and characters would come richly to life. The props were also spare, and a few simple lighting techniques neatly set each scene.
The play opened (and was interspersed throughout) with Olly Fox’s gloriously frenetic score, which mirrored the vigorous actions of the seven adult actors who ran onstage as children. Potter’s vision of adults playing children evokes an unusual combination of naiveté and knowing, and the actors of Northern Stage played the parts perfectly. I learned afterwards that the cast had spent time with a class of seven-year-old children, learning their mannerisms and ways of speaking, and this shone through in their performance. No one stood still for a moment, each character had his or her own traits and expressions, and I was left with the same exhausted feeling I would have after spending time with a group of actual seven year olds.
David Nellist’s portrayal of Willie was the highlight of the play for me. While I loved Tilly Gault’s prissy doll-like Angela and Christopher Price’s scruffy, blustering Peter, I was constantly drawn to Willie for his sobs over a stolen apple, his uproarious laughter at the idea of kissing a girl, and his obsession with being a fighter pilot.
Blue Remembered Hills has a schizophrenic quality, with the mood rising and falling as quickly as the mood of a child. Behind every scene lies the reality of war and family unrest, but also a great sense of humour. I’ll not give anything of the storyline away, in case, like me, you don’t know what to expect from this play, but you should definitely head down to the Playhouse this week. You won’t be disappointed. @bookingaround