The device of having adult actors play children, using all their skills and expertise to convey the viciousness, mob mentality and vulnerability of childhood, is brilliantly conceived and realised. The play is very funny in parts, dark and moving in others, anti-nostalgic like a slightly softer (and rather more believable) Lord of the Flies.
Paul Smith’s production for Wellington Civics does Potter’s vision full justice.
Simply, it is one of the finest pieces of amateur theatre I have ever seen. The set is superb, the Arts Centre being ingeniously rearranged (not for the first time) to create an intimate space decked with tree branches and camouflage netting to create a very real impression of the Forest of Dean, and the acting of the seven-strong cast is outstanding.
All make totally believable children with well-sustained characterisations and accents, and some nicely-judged mannerisms (John’s jumper-tugging, Audrey’s bum-scratching).
Ensemble work is the core of the piece but the strengths of individual performances must not be overlooked. Leon Searle as the abused and mentally disturbed Donald, often the butt of the others’ cruelty, is absolutely riveting and his final scene almost unbearable.
David Duthie’s energetic performance as the madly enthusiastic if none-too-bright Willie, entrusted with the prime responsibility for engaging the audience and fixing the mood of the play, is outstanding too.
Kevin Stratton revels in the bluster and underlying vulnerability of bully-boy Peter, and his three fight scenes are entertainingly chaotic (Kevin described the experience as “fun, but painful”). John Skitrell, in one of the more understated characters, gives a nicely toned performance as a slightly reluctant alpha male and Ian Jones, called in as a short-notice replacement and fighting discomfort from a slipped disc, gives no sign of either in his thoroughly engaging portrayal of the (comparatively) sensitive stammerer Raymond.
Charlie Hughes is excellent as the sweet-but-bitchy Angela and Beth Swan, looking almost unbelievably gawky and unglamorous, produces another tour-de-force as the straight-down-bitchy Audrey.
Penny Bradnum’s costumes are spot-on and Steve Bradnum’s lighting is beautifully handled to enhance the atmosphere. All in all this is a production that cannot be faulted.