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Blue Remembered Hills (tour - Watford, Palace Theatre)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

 Children play games. They're not always as nice or as gentle as adults expect them to be. Dennis Potter's drama was written for the BBC's Play for Today series in 1979 and is now on a too-short tour in a new production for Northern Stage by Psyche Stott. It's set in wartime countryside and concerns seven seven-year olds – two girls and five boys.

On the surface, the girls role-play at domesticity with a pram and a doll. The boys scrump apples, imagine fighting the Germans or capturing an escaped Italian PoW. They pick on one of their classmates for his stutter and another (whose father's fate in Japanese-occupied Malaysia is unlikely to be a happy one) for his sheer neediness. One boy is a natural bully though, like others of his tribe, he wilts when challenged.

Designer Ruari Murchison presents his adult cast against a symbolic back ground of sky and hills with a ladder for a tree and Colin Grenfell's projections shifting us from open ground to deep woodland. David Nellist gives a full characterisation of Willie, a sort of Billy Bunter figure who uses his wit to stave off jibes. James Bolt is Raymond, who stutters and Christopher Price makes bully Peter truly an uncomfortable young person to have around.

Also prone to throwing his weight around is John ([Phil Cheadle). The two girls are bossy, flirtatious Angela, who expects always to be queen of everybody's castle, as Tilly Gaunt makes clear and wannabe Audrey one of life's eternal hangers-on, well characterised by Joanna Holden. Donald (nick-named Duck, of course) is the story's tragic centre. Adrian Grove projects his sadness and ultimate desperation with great credibility.


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