Writer: Deborah McAndrew
Music: Conrad Nelson
Director: Barrie Rutter
Reviewer: Sue Collier
It is 1914. Everyone has stopped working at the mill and they are excitedly preparing for ‘Wakes Week’, the celebration of the Rushbearing Festival. The local Morris Dancing team are rehearsing for their parade through the village and the Rush Wagon is piled high with cut reeds, on top of which rides a man on a saddle. Music, singing and courting are also on the agenda.
This is a time when everyone knows their place. The Squire controls the workers. Fathers decide the romantic fate of their daughters. Employment inequality is not questioned.
When initially the beginning of the war is mentioned, it is only considered as something which is affecting other parts of the country. It is felt unlikely to bring change to this rural Lancashire village where the importance of tradition maintains a strong sense of community pride and bond between the villagers. Of course they are all wrong.
A wonderful festival day is enjoyed by all. The Squire’s daughter Mary meets secretly with mill worker Frank Armitage and when Frank proposes marriage, Mary’s future hopes lie in her father’s hands.
Then at the end of such a happy day, the Squire’s two sons, Edward and William, declare they have signed up for the army (which they regard as being a jolly adventure). At this point, everything in the world changes and communities are maimed. Everyone is fearful. Women’s positions in society start to develop and they begin to replace the rôles of their serving menfolk.
Barrie Rutter’s creative direction produces a powerfully beautiful theatre experience. The acting is incredibly moving and the strong cast all present totally believable characters with whom the audience strongly connect. Emily Butterfield and Darren Kuppan deserve particular mention and their strongly emotive portrayal of Mary and Frank looking lovingly into each other’s eyes is very believable. When Rutter’s character the Squire receives two telegrams, Rutter’s portrayal of this experience produces total silence and a sense of strong emotion within everyone present throughout the entire theatre.
The staging is marvelous and in particular the Rush Cart scene is very impressive. The attention to the historical detail within the dancing and music is wonderful and presents well the huge array of talent throughout the entire cast. The lengthy and complex Denshaw Dance is spellbindingly presented and the audience cheered loudly to show their appreciation of it.
An August Bank Holiday Lark is very relevant today, and an important reminder that one hundred years after the start of World War One, war is still destroying communities all around the world.
Northern Broadside productions are always impressive and this co-production between the New Vic Theatre and Northern Broadsides holds the viewer spellbound throughout every moment of its story. It is always a good indicator of the quality of a production when the sense of disappointment is only felt merely because the play has ended and one was enjoying it so much. Highly recommended.
Runs until: Saturday 19th April 2014