A Dennis Potter Double Bill
Blue Remembered Hills and Brimstone and Treacle by Dennis Potter
Directed by John Palmer April 2019
Blue Remembered Hills
Brimstone and Treacle
….as always with this company there’s huge commitment to excellence in set, costumes, and special effects as well as performance. Both of these one-act plays, have an uncanny resonance with our current political anguish. Set in 1943, the children in the first play would have been elderly in 2016, and possibly yearning for the England they remembered from idyllic nostalgia, where they roamed in the fields and woods of the Forest of Dean, the bombing raids and captured enemies merely part of their games like the doll’s pram, scrumped apples and tree climbing. Yet nothing of this is remotely idyllic: even before the tragic ending, their voices are shrill with conflict copied from the adult world around them, they kill the wildlife they find, bully the weakest, fight, cheat and lie. Charm was not required in the boys, but Simon Joyce’s Raymond was endearing and Alan Burgess brought poignancy to lonely Donald, while Angela (Sue Ross) and Audrey (Suzy Howlett) effectively created the two little girls who with every utterance evoked that famous Ignatius Loyola premise that the child at seven will show the adult for life.
I wish I could show you the clever set change that transformed the barn and fields to a 1970s suburban living room where the bickering Bates couple (Polly Lamb and Julian Thomas) tend their brain damaged daughter Pattie- a brilliant performance by Georgina Littlewood – and succumb to the wiles of a charming stranger who happens to be the devil. Django Lewis-Clark brought dapper elegance to this strange role, providing a real highlight with his wickedly parodic prayer to the Lord in the guise of every extremist cleric around the planet. Martin-the-devil has high hopes of Mr Bates who laments that the whole country is full of blacks and addicts and ‘Everybody is up to something’ – but ultimately won’t be lured to accept pure evil and admits ‘All I want is the England I used to know – the England I remember as a young man. I simply want the world to stop and go back a bit.’ Written in 1976, how sadly prescient. Let’s hope UK like Pattie will suddenly arise with renewed clarity and belated understanding.
Written with the express intention of the seven children from the Forest of Dean in 1943 being played by adult actors, Blue Remembered Hills examines brutality, artifice, competitiveness, favouritism and fear, but Potter adds an elegiac ending, mourning the loss of youthful innocence. Brilliantly played by the ensemble of Alan Burgess, Gerard Crawshaw, Giles De Rivas, Suzy Howlett, Simon Joyce, Richard Moore and Sue Ross, using the entire theatre for their games in John Palmer’s witty, tense production.
Brimstone and Treacle was shielded from public view as it shows a seriously disabled girl raped by a young man who seems to be the devil incarnate. A production needs an intensely charismatic young man and an extremely talented actress, as well as two more “standard”“ types to play the parents. Frome Drama has Django Lewis-Clark to play the satanic Martin and Georgina Littlewood to convince as the bed-bound and speechless and may-be brain dead Pattie, supported by Polly Lamb and Julian Thomas as the stricken parents.
The treacle oozes from Martin’s pores, and there’s sulphur in the air when he’s around. But is he a deus or a diabolus ex machina?
The play is particularly relevant in these shall-we/shan’t we Brexit days, with its talk of the National Front and violent racism being a step too far for those wanting a return to easier, more dependable times. The Bates home is a haven of hypocrisy and control, and Pattie’s miracle might not be what they all want. Both plays have stood the test of time, and these multi-layered and delicately wrought performances are another example of the versatility of the Frome company’s members.
The Fine Times Recorder