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Theatre review: Blue Remembered Hills, Northern Stage, Newcastle


Dennis Potter’s death in 1994 was mourned in some quarters as the passing of Britain’s greatest ever television writer. But the searing inventiveness of Brimstone and Treacle, Pennies from Heaven or The Singing Detective was not universally admired.

Mary Whitehouse aside, many felt his work had a furtive, voyeuristic quality that degraded women as well as dwelling unhealthily on male preoccupations with sex, pain and guilt.

To his left-wing champions however he was the authentic voice of post-war socialist idealism. The right simply found him too much to stomach – and he repaid the compliment by naming the cancer that was to kill him Rupert after the proprietor of the Sun newspaper who Potter blamed for many of society’s modern ills.

Blue Remembered Hills, although groundbreaking in many ways, is by contrast a relatively uncontroversial offering. It’s most famous feature was the decision to use adult actors to play the children. It is now a staple of community theatre and as a perennial on the 'A' level curriculum one can only assume it has the blessing of Education Secretary Michael Gove, perhaps for the evocation of patriotic wartime grit, the young protagonists’ blind faith in the invincibility of the RAF or its casual xenophobia against captured “Wops”.

Of course Potter’s famous Bafta-winning Play for Today, originally written in 1979 for the post Nine O’clock News one-off drama series Play for Today – a strand of broadcasting which to the Spooks generation must seem bizarrely outmoded– is preaching the dark opposite of all that guff. And the heartbreaking theme of innocence not lost but never really had are tenderly explored by director Psyche Stott and an energetic and talented cast of actors.

The lighting cleverly switches the action from black and white to colour but for most of the production the childish adventures are set against a simple clear blue sky, a green hill and a forest.

The play avoids mawkishness and successfully achieves the dream-like quality of recalled childhood – the interposing of our own adult self on the actions of the past and the yearning for a simpler time when we lived entirely in the present.

But for all its charms and strengths, lasting just one hour and with a top ticket price of £24 this is in danger of feeling like a brief and expensive night out in this present time of austerity.

Newcastle to 11 May then touring Liverpool, Guildford, Watford, Oxford, Pole, Richmond and Derby to 29 June