The impact of Southwick Players’ production of Blue Remembered Hills was clear from the start.
With no curtain, there was ample opportunity to explore all the aspects of the stunning set, from ramshackle barn to climbable tree and rickety bridge to deep dugout.
A large part of the Forest of Dean had somehow been condensed to a single stage and yet each area remained clearly defined.
The opening scene emphasised this, as each character arrived separately and appeared unaware of the presence of the others – giving the suggestion that they were actually far apart in the woods.
The production is one of six competing in this year’s Brighton and Hove Arts Council Drama Awards and adjudicator Trevor Jones, who has worked extensively in professional theatre for 50 years, was at the Barn Theatre on Friday night.
He told the Players: “It is very difficult to imagine that this is a huge wood with different areas. What you have done in this small space to create these different areas is absolutely amazing.”
Tobias Clay as the tormented outcast Donald and Kate Stoner as butch Audrey were rightly picked out by Trevor for their outstanding performances.
But I also particularly enjoyed the work of Andy Bell as bully boy Peter and Steve Martin as Willie. Playing the part of a child when you are an adult is difficult but I thought Steve, particularly, did it very well.
Trevor referred to his own experience of this and suggested the cast employed a little too much movement in this production, almost to the point of distraction.
He was picking up on fine detail here, although there were just one or two times when I thought they were portraying children as adults do, rather than behaving as a child actually would.
It’s a dark play and I think the Players could have made it a little more sinister.
But there was no doubt about the trauma felt by Donald as he spiralled over the edge, affected by his home life as well as the way he was treated by the gang.
“It is really difficult to cry on stage. It was very, very moving,” noted Trevor.
Southwick Players has won the BHAC’s top award for the last two years. This year’s winners will be revealed in December.