Kingston Bagpuize Drama Group 27 – 29th November 2008
The Accrington Pals by Peter Whelan
What a tremendous amount of thought had gone into the production of this play, not only on stage, but from the moment you stepped into the Hall, the atmosphere of the 1914-18 war was evident. From the front-of house staff in WW1 army uniforms to the opening talk by the Recruiting Sergeant regarding the ‘domestic arrangements’. The WW1 paraphernalia, together with an exhibition of artefacts were superb.
The set for the play was ingenious: simple but effective, making multiple use of the whole stage. The subdued lighting giving atmosphere to the early morning and war scenes.
Tom and May were very strong in their roles and the tension and hidden romance was very real and a joy to behold, although I have to say that the absolute star of the play was May (Andrea Spencer), ably supported by Eva (Emily Joyce). Rob Bateman was also strong in his role as Ralph, courageous sitting in the bath naked. The crowd scenes were very well done, using every available area of the stage. Sarah (Susi Dalton) added a little light relief to the play, with Bertha (Bryony Harding) providing the youthful element of the female cast. CSM Rivers (Lance Bassett) came over as rather bland particularly in the end scene when he was ordering the broken Tom away from the grieving Mary. Overall, the distress of the women was well displayed and the pathos came over well.
The much-beaten Reggie (Alex Haywood) showed considerable promise and will develop into a useful member of the group, but he must learn to speak slower and clearer, as many of his lines were lost. The piecing cries of ‘Reggie’ from his mother Annie (Sarah Cullen) could have been heard in Faringdon. Her hysterics upon learning of the death of her husband, Arthur, were a little over-the-top and, therefore, lost some effect. Mike Lacey’s quiet religious portrayal of Arthur was a good foil to the loud Annie. Overall the reports of the deaths were handled very well. The death scene of the Pals, itself, was handled superbly and was moving with sound and lighting, the white-out scene slipping easily into Eva’s faltering singing. The maintenance of pathos and despair was brilliantly portrayed. The timing throughout was excellent and the elements of humour brought out.
The sound effects were appropriate and good and eased the transition from scene to scene. The costumes were good and suitable, although I would have liked to see some changes for the women, as they wore the same things for weeks on end! The men unfortunately were stuck with their uniforms, which were correct and right, as were the props. The projected images at the end were very moving and provided a fitting finale. It was a pity that, given that it was a close-knit Accrington community there was such a disparity of accents, some not attempting accents at all.
The packed house on the last night were visibly moved at the accomplished performances, even though the play which was very long, could have benefited from some cutting.