Originally written for television, Dennis Potter’s drama about the antics of a group of children in the Forest of Dean in 1943 is a play that juxtaposes the joys and exuberance of childhood with its singular cruelties. With the play essentially following the extended playtime of a group of eight year olds there is potential for the production to be incredibly exasperating. Watching two hours of boisterous boys hollering and play fighting is not my idea of a good night at the theatre. Thankfully, this play is far more insightful than that and while at times the cast might overegg the vigour of childhood, the cast do well to present a believable snapshot of a countryside upbringing.
Often compared to Lord of the Flies, the play goes about defying the audience’s preconceptions about the idyllic nature of a rural childhood. More than anything, these children are united by their cruelty and it is easy to see why Caitlin McMillan (director) and Elena Gaddes (producer), the team behind Ribble Productions, had long cherished the hope of putting on this play together. Such is its acuity about even the youngest participants in our society’s potential for brutality. Social problems such as domestic violence and alcoholism also bubble unobtrusively at the back of the play as the children innocently mimic the conversations of their absent parents. One of my only quibbles with the production is that it doesn’t make more of the ways in which social deprivation and the children’s cruelty may be linked, but perhaps this is something that will be borne out by what sounds like an impressive set and costuming.
The cast have to be commended on their mastery of the West Country dialect in which the play is written. I keenly listened out for any slips but these actors did a uniformly good job of conjuring a Gloucestershire accent. Lily Levinson as Audrey is the stand-out performance of the production. In contrast to the television version, she chooses to play the usually whiny and pathetic Audrey with a humorous undertone, very deftly bringing to life the certain lack of self-awareness and vanity that children have to great comic effect. Ziad Samaha as Willie shows a similar plausibility as a mischievous young lad. Well acted and professionally staged, this production looks set to be a fine testament to the bright future of Ribble Productions.