Written originally for the BBC in 1979 this iconic play about seven young children effected by the grave consequences of war during one summers afternoon in 1943 is wonderfully brought to life by Hull Playgoers Society who live every single word of Dennis Potter’s masterpiece. The one injustice was that such a performance was not given the centre stage in the main theatre that it truly deserved.
The play opens with Dennis Potter (Timothy Brown) introducing the play as himself, leading us into 1983 with the characters as grown-ups, each involved in their own particular drama until a chance meeting between Audrey (Joy Ward) and John (Matthew Hornby) transports them back in time to their childhood in the Forest of Dean forty years earlier.
An enchanting, nostalgic tale unfolds with the boys playing soldiers, tumbling and chasing around the simple set of scaffolding and planks which is ingeniously used to give the impression of a wood. Every adult character has flashbacks of their own particular childhood games in seemingly more carefree days. Brian Shaw is outstanding as the bully, in a delightful and hilarious performance. A fight scene with John is breathtakingly realistic and equally funny, as is the non-appearance of an escapee Italian POW which leaves all the children terrified and reveals their vulnerability.
The mischievous girls Angela (Hannah Roberts) and Audrey, touchingly play act as parents, and wickedly tease Donald (Danny Bradley) to be their baby while he wants to be the daddy in a wonderfully well acted scene. Donald is deeply affected by the capture of his father by the "Japs" and the stand out scene is when he tries to punish them by striking matches. With the most basic props and simplest lighting the direction by Janet Musil creates a tension and sense of drama in the theatre which will have left a lasting impression with every one who witnessed it with baited breath. Donald’s troubled mind leads to the dramatic climax of the performance which shows just how innocent angelic faces can hide both true innocence and raw cruelty in the minds of children brought up during wartime.
This was theatre at its very best; writing of the highest order with acting that did it proud in every way possible. My faith in live theatre has been restored.