Cruel intentions

28th January 2005 at 00:00
Aleks Sierz previews two productions of a play that explores the darker side of children's nature

Blue Remembered Hills

Dennis Potter

Belgrade Theatre, Coventry

Tel:024 7655 3055

Duke's Theatre, Lancaster

Tel: 01524 598 500

Dennis Potter's Blue Remembered Hills, which first broadcast as a BBC Play for Today in 1979, is a contemporary classic. Set on a summer's day in the West Country, in 1943, it shows how a group of seven children behave when the adults are out of sight, and how their cruelty leads to tragedy.

Instead of seeing children as innocents, Potter stresses their cruelty and moral irresponsibility.

Director Nigel West, at the Belgrade, says: "Potter is one of the foremost writers of our time, and this play still stands up as a brilliant piece of theatre. Although it was written 25 years ago, the issues it raises about bullying, parenting and peer status among kids are as relevant as ever. And there's something that everyone of whatever age, can identify with."

Potter specified that adult actors should play the seven-year-olds "because this is magnifies the emotions in the play," and West has deliberately cast older actors "because it's much more uncomfortable to see a 50-year-old bawling their eyes out than a 30-year-old". Although the play is "quite dark in places," it's also a comedy.

"Whether we like it or not we are all part of our parents - they are a mirror to us," says West. "When one kid says: 'I'm going off down the buggering pub to get buggering eight pints', you know where he's got that line from." Using adult actors reflects this and suggests that in every child you can already see the future adult.

The world of the children is shown as playful and cruel. "When they chase the squirrel, it starts out as a piece of fun, but when they kill it, it turns into horror," says West. "The play is all about how kids look to their peers for approval, and it's full of status anxiety - we want to make kids in our audience stop and think about what they're doing to other kids."

Another version of the play is directed by Ian Hastings for the Duke's Theatre, Lancaster. "I have long been in the habit of sneaking up on my children and their friends to secretly attend the theatre they make: short, simple, spontaneous plays about life as they experience it," he says. "It's a dangerous habit since parents are often portrayed as tyrant or oppressor, and often these works are alarmingly un-PC."

Hastings wants his audience to feel they might be caught out as eavesdroppers on the world of the children.

* At the Duke's from February 4 to 26 and the Belgrade from February 19 to March 4

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