DENNIS Potter’s Blue Remembered Hills, first seen in 1979 as a BBC Play for Today, and his Brimstone and Treacle, written three years earlier but withdrawn from the small screen as it was considered too shocking, are still controversial today.
The writer was a Labour candidate in the 1964 election, and watching the antics of the adults playing the parts of silly children in BRH, it’s hard not to think of the current parliamentary debacle, and hope no-one ends up alone with a box of matches.
Written with the express intention of the seven children from the Forest of Dean in 1943 being played by adult actors, and following on from Lord of the Flies, Blue Remembered Hills examines brutality, artifice, competitiveness, favouritism and fear, but Potter adds an elegiac ending, mourning the loss of youthful innocence.
Brilliantly played by the ensemble of Alan Burgess, Gerard Crawshaw, Giles De Rivas, Suzy Howlett, Simon Joyce, Richard Moore and Sue Ross, using the entire theatre for their games in John Palmer’s witty, tense production.
Brimstone and Treacle was shielded from public view as it shows a seriously disabled girl raped by a young man who seems to be the devil incarnate. A production needs an intensely charismatic young man and an extremely talented actress, as well as two more “standard”“ types to play the parents. Frome Drama has Django Lewis-Clark to play the satanic Martin and Georgina Littlewood to convince as the bed-bound and speechless and may-be brain dead Pattie, supported by Polly Lamb and Julian Thomas as the stricken parents.
The treacle oozes from Martin’s pores, and there’s sulphur in the air when he’s around. But is he a deus or a diabolus ex machina?
The play is particularly relevant in these shall-we/shan’t we Brexit days, with its talk of the National Front and violent racism being a step too far for those wanting a return to easier, more dependable times. The Bates home is a haven of hypocrisy and control, and Pattie’s miracle might not be what they all want.
Both plays have stood the test of time, and these multi-layered and delicately wrought performances are another example of the versatility of the Frome company’s members.
The double bill is on at the Merlin until Saturday, and are well worth
jumping in your car and joining the audience.