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Review: Blue Remembered Hills @ Lichfield Garrick

BA certain atmosphere of anticipation flickered through the local artistic community before this first night.

Certainly Different Animal Theatre Group’s heralding of their new amateur company sounded like fighting talk to me, especially since their stated aims were the achievement of a degree of excellence in an arena which must boast some of the best semi-professional productions in the country.

So I’m absolutely delighted to report that their first production is bang-on, scoring an auspicious bull’s-eye at it’s premiere and ticking every conceivable box of taste for those of us who like their theatre to be unexpected, up close and personal, immediate, sophisticated and involving all at the same time.

They’ve scored a first too by turning the Garrick Studio my very favourite midlands theatre space into a supremely intimate theatre-in-the-round. If the seating were only staggered slightly or better still had a slight raking it would be completely perfect – we hobbits can’t see over the heads of you Big Folk, you know.

Dennis Potter’s ground-breaking BBC TV film from the seventies has been brilliantly crafted by director Dan Branch into a deeply involving stage play which is by turns comic and profoundly moving. Here we see a group of war-time children, fighting, laughing, teasing, arguing, bullying and crying. They expertly mirror the world they are born into, the only world they know where conflicts across the globe and nearer home bring atrocities the mind flinches from into their everyday lives.

The sheer physicality of this production alone makes it a landmark in local theatre while with such an accomplished cast the device of having adults play their childish counterparts brings a searing intensity to the drama.

Ken Knowles as the cowboy-suited stutterer has never seemed more vulnerable, while Hannah Davies gives her role a heart-wrenching dimension as the pram-pushing mini-mum Angela. Steve Appleyard is an astonishing talent whose beautifully-judged body language showed us the poignancy of damaged child Willie whose future will depend on a triumph of character over environment.

Relative newcomer Jessica James as the over-emotional Audrey profoundly evokes the damaged woman this child may become. She should act more. David Stonehouse as the decent boy who goes along with the crowd subtly suggests all the personal and political ills this might produce. Nigel Lowe is actually quite astonishing as the play’s most obvious bona fide victim. His is a master-class in characterisation, while Chris Stanley’s beautiful performance as the nervous bully commands our compassion, lest we cast the first stone.

I’m not going to divulge any more secrets about this wonderful production except to say the first night saw a packed audience of all ages rapt till its very end. If you love – well, life – just try and get a ticket before it ends.

Blue Remembered Hills runs until February 25.

For tickets phone the box office on 01543 412121 or go online at www.lichfieldgarrick.com.

A volunteer wrote this. Say thanks with a coffee.

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