Northern Stage’s decision to stage Blue Remembered Hills on an empty monochrome stage is risky to says the least – but it comes off better than you might think.
Probably the most surprising thing about Blue Remembered Hills (apart from writing a play where adults play children and getting away with it – but then, this is Dennis Potter who loves to mess with your head so it’s not that big a surprise) is that this play made it to the stage at all. It was written and produced as a television play, and Potter never adapted it for the stage. On top of all this, 72 minutes is all very well for a TV programme, but it’s deadly for commercial theatre takings. And yet Blue Remembered Hills took a life of its own as a stage play and 34 years after the original screening, Northern Stage was all too eager to take this on.
The most notable feature of the play is, of course, a cast of seven seven-year-olds being played entirely by adults. This is not simply a practicality to circumvent the problems of having young children performing live on stage, but a deliberate decision on Potter’s part; because even in the screenplay – where it wouldn’t have been too hard to have cast children – the cast is adults. There were a number of reasons, but the big one was the bring home to fact that even in young children, the pecking order, vanity and power-struggles aren’t that different to those of adults – if anything, they are even more vicious.
Noises Off, Michael Frayan’s classic farce within a farce, may be undemanding entertainment, but it is highly talented undemanding entertainment.
It might be self-indulgent, but most play writers will at some point write a play about producing a play. This is, unsurprisingly, particularly popular with other writers, actors and directors who spot all the in-jokes straight away. There’s the Farndale Avenue Townswomen’s Guild series, the popular Bad Play trilogy at the Edinburgh Fringe, but the show of this kind that dominates the West End is Michael Frayan’s 1982 classic, Noises Off. So, as someone who has written, acted and directed myself, I watched this with some trepidation: will I see ,yself on stage? I was spared that, but pretty much everything else in the play I recognise from real events: forgetting lines (check), prompt bellowing aforementioned line (check), actor not hearing aforementioned line (check), people left standing on stage like idiots because someone’s to enter (check), forgetting to bring the right props on stage (check), contrived improvisation to compensate for aforementioned prop (check), leaving complicated sets until the last moment (check), actors not taking in clear instructions (check), actors asking stupid questions (check), and actors storming off in the final rehearsal (check). The only thing I don’t think I’ve seen first-hand is a play where the director works his way through half the female cast and crew. (Thinks: which theatre company is this based on, and how can I get a job directing one of their plays?)
Okay, I’m back from Brighton and have now finished expanding my speedy error-strewn reviews into something longer. (See also What’s Worth Watching for plays I’ve seen at previous Fringes but didn’t catch this time – this list is for plays I saw at this Fringe.) Apologies for anyone waiting for reviews from more local plays – I will clear the backlog soon. Anyway, I saw 13 productions at the Brighton Fringe this year, and as per last time, I’ve found the overall average standard to be better than Edinburgh. In fact, I’d say only one play was mediocre – I won’t say which one, but it was a bit of devised theatre. I’ve noticed devised theatre is a problematic area (albeit one which can be fantastic if you get it right), so I think I’ll write my thoughts about this another time.
To repeat the rules: this is the stuff that stood out for me – and at Brighton, where the average standard is pretty good, this is a tough bar to clear. What I’ve seen is heavily influenced by when I was there and what happened to be on at the right time, so this list should be considered a cross-section of the plays out there rather than a comprehensive assessment of everything out there. Indeed, anyone who claims to have single-handedly picked out all the best plays in the Brighton Fringe is lying. Anyway, here is your cross-section … Continue reading