Venue: Drama Barn
Running until: 23rd October 2011
Written by: Paul Whelan
Directed by: Stephanie Faye Bartlett
Produced by: Catherine Bennett, Miriam Gilkes
The Accrington Pals had moments of truly poignant acting, but overall the powerful cast were not fully supported by either the script or the direction. While capable of creating incredibly touching peaks, the intensity was in no way sustained throughout the production, and the power of the second half was not duly prepared.
May (Roseanna Brear) and Tom (Luke de Belder) are a tour de force on stage, especially as the dynamics of their relationship were skilfully played out. Amidst the hysteria that grips the likes of Eva (Claire Curtis Ward), Bertha (Pippa Pearce) and Annie (Georgia Bird), Brear’s attempted stoicism in the face of losing her lover is both welcome and immensely moving. Bedler’s boyish enthusiasm for naïve ideals right up until the last is equally as powerful. CSM Rivers (Joe Williams) is portrayed intuitively – Williams successfully embodies varying military sentiments of the period, and is particularly commanding in his final scene with Brear and Belder.
Yet the first half limps along in a tired, unsure, and altogether rather flacid way. Not enough was accentuated in the way of the nuances of the plot to ensure audience attention, leaving us slightly bored, and bumbling to V-bar. Director Stephanie Faye Bartlett appeared to have done little to allow the first half to grow in any way, almost inhibiting it through its all too linear and stagnant progression. This is illustrated particularly in the early exchanges between Ward and Brear.
However, choices regarding the set were made to stunning effect. Scenes in the harsh trenches set back from the stage, coupled with a chilling soundtrack, are trapped with exquisite lighting, framed and confined to echo the mindset of a country. The raising up and down of a large Union Jack flag, shrouding then unveiling the trenches aptly portrayed how the reality of trench warfare was far removed from the patriotic idealism with which it was seen at home.
In short, the quality of acting and examination of wartime relationships outweighed the stilted start. The production was a welcome slice of northern drama, and sets a suitable tone for the rest of the barn’s season.