The production by Northern Stage of Dennis Potter’s Blue Remembered Hills reminds us how much potentially great work was lost when the BBC — disgracefully — dropped the Play for Today slot, in which it was first aired in 1979.

Running at precisely one hour — hardly good money’s worth for a ‘night’ of theatre — the stage version exactly reproduces what was seen on screen. A cynic might, therefore, wonder why it was done at all. The potential audience could have stayed at home with the DVD.

This is to forget, though, the impact of live theatre with, as here, a gifted team of actors demonstrating their remarkable technical skills as they present the group of seven-year-olds involved in the story.

The action is set in the Forest of Dean in 1943, where Potter himself was such a child. The play’s title is taken from a heart-tugging poem from A.E. Housman’s A Shropshire Lad: “Into my heart an air that kills/From yon far country blows:/What are those blue remembered hills,/What spires, what farms are those?”

None watching it, surely, can doubt with what uncanny accuracy the behaviour of children is presented — the swank, the tantrums, the terrors. Pre-eminently, for this is the play’s chief concern, we see the casual cruelty of the young, whether practised on an innocent squirrel stamped to death or, as later, even more shockingly, on one of their number.

Watching the children, we see the adults they will become and, it is implied, perhaps also something of the characters of those involved in the war, which is on all of their minds.

In Christopher Price’s bum-scratching Peter we are shown the archetypical bully, whose tubby target Willie (David Nellist) is, of course, ready to menace himself when a ‘group’ victim emerges in the cry-baby Donald (Adrian Grove). ‘Donald Duck’ is even tormented by the girls, pleased with herself Angela (Tilly Gaunt) and bossy bossy Audrey (Joanna Holden).


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