Anna Ledwich’s production of the 1973 television play by Dennis Potter launches Chichester’s ambitious Theatre on the Fly project. A temporary space has been erected on the green between the Festival and Minerva Theatres. It’s a rough, raw construction, with wooden benches for seats and a sizeable stage area. Andrew D Edwards’ design, with its skeletal trees made of scaffolding poles, emphasises the existing barn-like qualities of the space, opening up the back of the building to the park beyond. Ledwich’s production makes good use of this set up, blurring the line between exterior and interior - her characters can be seen framed against the green well before they enter the theatre.
A scene from Blue Remembered Hills at Theatre On The Fly, Chichester Photo: Tristram Kenton
In Potter’s play, set during the years of the Second World War, a group of seven year olds tease and taunt one another in the Forest of Dean, casually echoing their parents’ prejudices, and occasionally turning against one another, attacking as a pack. The wartime backdrop permeates their games and they take pleasure kicking a squirrel to death before tearfully wondering if it deserves a proper burial. The children are played by adult actors and some of the cast convince more than others in this regard - Ryan Early’s Willie achieves the best balance by resisting the urge to overplay.
It’s a difficult tone to sustain, even over a short running time, and the production slumps a little in the middle, but the ending is a powerful one, thanks in part to the unique qualities of the building. The parkland beyond, viewed through haze, takes on an ominous air - adulthood waits for them all (bar one), a world unmapped and unknown.