Writer: Deborah McAndrew
Director: Barrie Rutter
Reviewer: Matthew Jackson
“Keep Calm and Carry On” was the title of an unused poster in World War Two and what a play that recognises that idea. An August Bank Holiday Lark set before and during World War One shows how a rural community in Lancashire is affected by the war. As Director Barrie Rutter writes in the programme “we wanted to stay at home and absorb the impact of the world events”. And this production does just that, showing a local rural community and how the decisions made by those in power can affect them.
Throughout the play you get a real sense of community, with decisions such as the staging incorporating the whole theatre in the round auditorium. The audience seemed to engage with the production especially during the celebrations of the annual Rushcart festival which was only added to when the Rushcart was paraded around the stage with Herbert Tweddle played by Mark Thomas waving at the audience as he went around.
But this play is a play of two halves, luckily both in a good way. Throughout the first act you will laugh at the quick wittedness of the script, as well as the colourful design work by designer Lis Evans, who uses a lot of colour in the first act but juxtaposes this with a duller palette in the second. As referenced in the play, the night draws in fast at the start of Act Two, and the audience are soon faced by the drums of war. But don’t be fooled into thinking this is just another play written to commemorate the 100th year anniversary of the start of the First World War. What is so good about this play is that it’s not just focused on one thing, but cleverly mastering important issues at the time such as the changing rôle of women in society as well as the bad conditions some workers faced.
There is one element of the play that has to be praised and that is the Morris dancing, almost with military precisions the whole cast danced in the traditional bank holiday celebrations. However it also cleverly mirrored marching into war, which we see more in the second act.
Towards the end of the play there didn’t seem to be a dry eye in the house. The light hearted humour turns into the dark realities of war concluding with the stark truth of the fallen. McAndrew weaves statistics into one of the closing speeches which bridges a time gap in the play. This was a standout piece performed poignantly by Darren Kuppan who plays Frank Armitage. This play certainly seemed to make the audience leave the auditorium with one thing on their mind…Lest We Forget.
This production is an insightful example of how a local community once oblivious to what the future holds, faces the math and terror of war. Not even a light hiccup of a line or the rattling of the backstage curtains could detract attention from this effective script and strong cast. All that’s left to say is why not head down to the New Vic to see this touching production.
Photo: Nobby Clark
Runs until 1st March then on tour