Now if you are reading this on Wednesday 25th April 2018 then you might be wondering to yourself why my weekly review is being posted mid-week rather than the end of the week as normal. Well, unlike the majority of reviews I write, for this one time was somewhat of the essence because the play that I have just seen premiered tonight (do plays premier or have an opening night?? I’ll have to look that up). Anyway, it will be playing at the Swindon Arts Centre, Thursday, Friday with its final night Saturday 28th so if you want to see it there is rather a narrow window left.
This is not going to be a full review, rather something of a rapid fire review as my time for writing and posting is short. So let’s just crack straight on…
The Accrington Pals is a play written by Peter Whelan and presented by the Phoenix Players, who as you may recall I have seen before doing a comedy, Par for the Course and a drama, Prescription for Murder. If you don’t recall that go to the TAC Reviews…Live Events to find my reviews of them…but let’s not get off track
This play walks the line between being at times funny, at times serious and at times moving as it follows a small group of men, and woman during the events before and during the Great War. Which would see men from the town of Accrington joined those preparing to fight, whilst the women were left behind to continue on leading as normal lives as possible whilst clinging to the hope that their loved ones would return.
I have studied some aspect of human history, but not for a while so my recollection of some of what follows might not be one hundred percent accurate. Now, from what I recall when the Great War first started there was a strong belief that it would be brief, most thought it would be over by Christmas, so young men the country over were volunteering to go and join the fight. It was almost seen as something of a joke. Men wishing to prove their bravery and heroism leaving behind the women to carry on whilst they “played soldiers”. But of course as the war continued on people started to realise that of the thousands that volunteered to go, most would not return.
Both Battles of the Somme saw 420,000 British men die, with 60,000 of them on the first day with the French and Germans also loosing hundreds of thousands of troops. Now how can such a horrifying battle be represented in a play that has you chuckling in one scene but then drops the horrors of war into your lap in the next??
The answer is quite simply down to the cast, people behind the scenes and the direction.
In the previous plays that I have seen I have always been conscious of the fact that I am watching an amateur dramatics production, and the people before me are not professional actors. They have day jobs and work on plays like this in the evenings and weekends. They don’t get paid and they do it because they like doing it…and honestly that I respect. I have seen many a movie in which an actor is clearly just phoning in their part but in plays like this it is obvious that everyone up on the stage is putting their all into their performance. There might be those that are a little wooden or clearly nervous but they have the nerve to be up there so I cut them more slack than an actor phoning it in despite being paid.
However this time I didn’t think to myself I was watching non-professional actors because I thought they all did a superb job. From the male characters, Tom especially (played by Ben Robinson) who dreamed of a life of possibilities, to Arthur (played by Raman Aggarwal) who kept his faith in God even as he is forced to confront the worst of humanity. To the female characters such as May (Freya Brain) who keeps her feelings for Tom buried so she doesn’t have to face the prospect that he may go to war and never return, and Eva (Claire Brown) who holds out hope that Ralph will return to marry her someday.
The cast are able to blend the comedic elements with the more serious moments, and such a thing to do is rare in my experience, especially in amateur dramatics.
I have only mentioned a few of the cast members and their characters above but if I went on to talk about all of them and how impressed I was by their performances this would turn into a very long review. I didn’t see one of them out of place nor did I think that any of them were not giving everything they had to bring their characters to life.
The scale of the production seemed larger than in any of the previous Phoenix Players plays that I have seen with sound effects and different lighting techniques used to demonstrate what the characters are going through. Naturally we aren’t talking about Hollywood style effects here but for a small production there was a good use of sound and lighting to keep the audience in the moment with the characters.
Admittedly, there were one or two stumbling blocks, there were a couple of occasions when members of the cast needed prompting on their next line, plus the props needed to be moved around between scenes which was a little distracting.
However, neither of these things are deal breakers so if you live in Swindon, I urge you to head over to the Art Centre and check out this play because I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Like I said this is something of a quick fire review and I am aware that I have actually said very little regarding what the play is actually about but that was deliberate because you should go and see it to see for yourself. I am going to give The Accrington Pals a Thumbs Up, because it was the best of the plays I have seen by the Phoenix Players thus far which works comedy and tragedy together without one seeming out of place beside the other.
8.5/10 – I thoroughly enjoyed the play from beginning to end, the cast were fun to watch, the story was well acted and the effects helped to bring home some of the horrors of war. Yes there were a couple of mistakes along the way but on the whole it was great play and one that you still have time to go and see…unless you are reading this on or after Sunday 29th April 2018 in which case, you missed your chance.