Writer: Dennis Potter
Director: Psyche Stott
Reviewer: Mary Tapper
Dennis Potter’s play, adapted from the original TV version on Play for Today in 1979, lasts an hour. Barely settled in to the theatre with coats off, than we are finished, and a slightly confused audience is spilling out..all checking watches and looking around bewildered. So does the play pack a punch that justifies the ticket price or are we left feeling short changed?
The play is set at the end of World War II and is a perfect observation of the seven year old child. Small groups play, bully, run about and talk. All this is done by portraying children using adult actors, as Potter specified. The acting is excellent. It is difficult to believe that Tilly Gaunt, playing Angela, is actually an adult, as she nails the precocious girl, full of outrage and flicked hand gestures, and Joanna Holden, as Audrey, is equally stunning as the scrappy friend, negotiating and changing allegiances where necessary to get her way. The whole company do an excellent job of portraying both the ages and the mannerisms of small children but perhaps do not quite manage to convey the heartbreak among all the frolicking. It is no secret to suggest that things do not turn out well at the end of the play (publicity materials all suggest as much) but the final scenes lack bite and do not feel shocking enough. We need to be sitting in stunned silence with emotions raw and this does not really happen. And so the whole point of the play seems to be lost – the minor bullying, the changes of allegiances among the children, while interesting and amusing, seem slight and under-drawn. There seems neither a sense of foreboding nor a shockingly surprising descent into tragedy.
The set is simple, with a grassy bank and projections on to a back screen to change location. A large wooden structure is used to good effect to portray a barn and lighting is beautiful – at times the landscape glows as the children appear silhouetted against the backdrop. Costumes are good, with us being left in no doubt as to the era, and a lovely old battered pram makes an appearance, adding to the 40s feel of the piece.
So, do we feel shortchanged? Northern Stage have made a fine effort to make this work. With good acting and beautiful movement on stage they have shown real commitment to the play and the sheer dedication of all the cast shines through. And yet the audience wants to be shocked, and the play feels too slight, the evening too short, the issues too obvious. Perhaps this is a piece that was of its time and it has not transferred well to the current day? A classic, showing childhood at a moment in history? Perhaps, but at full price for an hour this needs to deliver a blow to the solar plexus. It doesn’t.
Runs until 8th June