The Fighting Bradfords: a belated homage


The Gala’s first theatre commission in years, The Fighting Bradfords, might not be the most memorable World War One play, but it portrays a faithful story of four forgotten brothers.

What a year it’s been for the Gala Theatre. Ever since the acrimonious departure of artistic director Simon Stallworthy, the Gala Theatre’s status has been relegated to a second division receiving venue, with very little actual theatre being programmed. I got wind of things changing around 12 months ago with the appointment of a new programming director and a renewed interest from the County Council. Things started bearing fruit earlier this year with a lot of high-profile companies coming to the theatre – there had been the odd high-profile company before, but three companies in one season (Northern Stage, Original Theatre Company and John Godber company) was new. Then came Next Up …, the inaugural scratch night, which was successful enough to become a regular thrice-yearly fixture.

Now comes The Fighting Bradfords, the Gala’s first commission. Well, sort of. Officially, this is a Durham County Council commission for a play to be performed at the Gala. The Gala is owned by the council, and theatre management is so tightly integrated into the council structures, there’s no clear line for what cultural activities in Durham County do and don’t count as the Gala’s own. In this case, the commission (along with No Turning Back over the summer) was part of a wider series of events over the county called Durham Remembers, marking the centenary of the Battle of the Somme, and the commission requested by the council was the story of four sons of the respected Bradford family. All enthusiastically signed up to fight, all were decorated for bravery – and all but one gave their lives. Continue reading

Where are those grey remembered hills?

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.

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