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.