Blue Remembered Hills, a play by Dennis Potter, takes its name from A E Housman’s A Shropshire Lad and tells a tale of lost childhood, lost innocence.
The actors are all adults playing children; a deliberate device to show the ‘remembered’ of the title. The ups and downs of children’s friendships, the games, the cruelty of their interactions, are set against the background of the Second World War. The way these relationships fluctuate is very realistic; best friends are made and lost in a sentence or two, the bully lords it over a weaker boy but then gets his come-uppance. Crying and teasing are part and parcel of being a child. There is, as well, a child who is universally picked on: if all else fails you can tease ‘Donald Duck’ who plays up to his hated nickname to try and gain acceptance: as we all know, that just brings him more scorn and ridicule. I could not help thinking of Lord of the Flies. The children are malicious, although, here, they do not mean to cause the harm that eventually occurs.
The adult world colours their lives: there is the dirty and often racist language copied straight out of their parents’ mouths; there is the War, which intrudes in several ways - an escaped prisoner of war, a father missing. The language of war has crept into their games and the way they relate to one another. Family situations are altered: there are hints that Donald’s mother is no better than she should be, that she beats her son and that his father is away. For me, the most moving part of the play is when the lonely Donald, kicked and scorned, curls up and wails for his father to come back.
The cast ran a workshop with some primary children and learned a lot from them about how children move and act, their sheer energy, the ‘hierarchies’ as they put it. A lot of this they capture on stage. However, the play did not quite work for me. Maybe it was the (presumably Forest of Dean) accent and the fact that most of the dialogue is delivered as a shout, but it was often hard to follow what was being said - and the dialogue is important. Nevertheless, this short play does capture some of what it is, or was, to be a child, in Housman’s words, ‘the land of lost content’.