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THE ACCRINGTON PALS – NODA Review
In this landmark centenary year of the end of the Great War, I have already been privileged to review a fair number of tribute productions, ranging from concerts to revues. This immensely moving and powerfully directed and acted production written by Peter Whelan and directed by Meg Bray, really hit the spot. A key part of the whole play was the prominent, but not oversized, large screen portraying war footage. The action onstage captured very well the horror of war and I found the cutting back and forth between stage and screen acting real and appropriately chosen. A great plus to the whole, in fact.
The stage itself was cleverly split to include three separate locations, Accrington, two army camps and the Somme. It was clear from the outset that a great deal of thought had been given to bringing out the humour, the pathos and the sheer horror of war and also the wonderful camaraderie of the decent British soldiers. Though essentially about war, this moving play was both a microcosm of the life in Accrington (and elsewhere) a century ago and a timeless tribute to the essential goodness of the common folk everywhere.
Its ultimate triumph was the invincibility of our human spirit over grief and evil. Ewhurst Players boast a real depth of acting talent and many of the actors have proven this to me on many occasions. However, it was heartening to see some relatively new arrivals also reaching this high standard.
Stirring classical and taped film music was used to heighten the emotion. All were well chosen, but I found some almost too moving for comfort at times; Adagio in G minor (from the film Gallipoli); Pachelbel’s Canon and Fugue; Adagio for strings (from the film Platoon); “Oh peaceful England” (Edward German); and Nimrod Enigma variations (Elgar). I confess that a moist eye was never far away!
Lighting and sound effects were extremely well used and much enhanced the whole. Nick Graham (lights), Ian Kay (sound) and Chris Gates (video and technical support) all deserve an honourable mention. Chairman Chris Dews constructed the realistic set and Fee Fraser used her eagle eye on wardrobe. A real Ewhurst team effort all round in fact.
The whole play was shot through with emotional highlights and yet with the sheer ordinariness of the everyday life of the folk in Accrington; the knocker-up man with his long pole to knock the terraced window; the carrier pigeon and basket, boys playing conkers; gas lamps on the kitchen table; the nosebleed and how common such ailments were; the CSM shouting at his men (well done Matt Thomas); Tom falling for the decade older May (Daniel Williams and Catherine Strange) showing vulnerability and passion so skilfully too; Ralph (Simon Fraser) and Eva (Jo McInnes), a superbly believable couple.
The fruit stall, with brass weighing scales, showed how everyday life proceeded despite the horror of war with the absence of regular news from the war being hard to bear. The stoicism of the people was painted so beautifully and director Meg Bray had sculpted a masterpiece, though it must be said that she had some very special ingredients with which to work.
I must add that in plays I routinely award each player a mark out of ten with six being average and seven good. In this play all players earned either and eight or a nine. Praise indeed!
Other names not specifically mentioned thus far – all of whom must surely feel proud of the important role they played in this wonderful play – were Sarah (Nicola Payne), Bertha (Sophie Shickell), Annie (Tricia Cooper), Arthur (Martin Sworn) and three special much younger boys. Reggie was the cheeky son with the nosebleed and the troubled mother (Annie) – well done, Luke Elms. Hamish McInnes with his clear voice and obvious stage presence was the paper boy. Harley Boatswain sang nicely as a choir boy.
The coup de gras was kept to the very end, however, with the final tableau with the back screen lit in red with poppies all round and the men with rifles silhouetted. The audience were momentarily stunned into silence. Tom as a ghost in white captivated the senses.
Frankly the whole production was exceptional and the only slight niggle I had was that one or two scene changes were a little on the long side.
I must mention the programme too; a welcome full page about NODA and another full page on “Help for Heroes” (the charity chose by Meg and the cast and to which the raffle proceeds were donated).
My visits to the warm, hospitable and talented Ewhurst Players, though my longest by road, are always ones I much look forward to and the warmth, dedication, obvious team spirit and sheer talent in this delightful “jewel in the crown” in rural Surrey once again delighted me. I salute you all, each and everyone!!
NODA Area 19
RAPUNZEL, THE PANTOMIME
…….DATES FOR YOUR DIARY…….
Rapunzel : 25 – 27th January 2019 and 1st-2nd February 2019
Whose Life is it Anyway? : 29th May – 1st June 2019