The Accrington Pals at the Barn Theatre reviewed

09:58 04 April 2014

Richard Cartwright as Tom, Tallan Cameron as Ralph and Kim Southey as Eve in The Accrington Pals [Picture: John Davies]

Richard Cartwright as Tom, Tallan Cameron as Ralph and Kim Southey as Eve in The Accrington Pals [Picture: John Davies]

John Davies

World War One drama The Accrington Pals plays at the Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City this week. Joseph Kerr reviews the production.

Tallan Cameron as Ralph, Harry Harding as Arthur, Richard Cartwright as Tom, and Darren Barsby as CSM Rivers in The Accrington Pals at the Barn TheatreTallan Cameron as Ralph, Harry Harding as Arthur, Richard Cartwright as Tom, and Darren Barsby as CSM Rivers in The Accrington Pals at the Barn Theatre

Most plays set in the First World War deal with the horrors of trench warfare, or the politicians and generals who were responsible for it.

Peter Whelan’s play at the Barn this week is different.

It is all about the impact the war had on the lives of the ordinary men and their families and friends who were caught up in it.

Accrington was one of several towns in the country which enthusiastically recruited a “Pals” battalion of soldiers all from the same locality – a brilliant idea to exploit the natural camaraderie, so essential to military success, that already existed between men who were known or related to so many of their fellows.

The Accrington Pals at the Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden CityThe Accrington Pals at the Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City

Or so it must have seemed until disaster struck at the Somme.

The great strength of the play is that we see the men not primarily as soldiers, but as husbands, sons and lovers, an essential part of the community to which they all belonged.

And it gives the playwright plenty of scope to explore the personal dilemmas posed by the war to those nearest to them.

It is above all an admiring portrait of the women of Accrington, coping with the problems created by the men’s absence, and in some cases benefiting from the new freedoms and opportunities it presented.

This production did full justice to the play’s potential.

May, the strong-willed but repressed owner of a fruit and veg stall, was ably played by Barn newcomer Hannah Leonard, well matched by Kim Southey as Eve, her definitely less repressed young helper.

Strong performances too from Emily Curry as the termagant Annie, and from Tammy Wall as the boisterous Sarah.

Of the men, I’d single out the sensitive acting of Richard Cartwright, playing May’s cousin and would-be lover, Tom.

But special praise is also due to Darren Barsby for his subtle representation of Sergeant Major Rivers, not at all the stereotypical professional NCO.

The play was ably directed by Yvana Reeves, with a simple but highly effective set designed by Rosemary Bianchi and equally good atmospheric lighting by John Cude.

And, as always at the Barn, the costumes were superb, helping greatly to take us back a hundred years to those troubled times.

* The Accrington Pals continues at the Barn until April 5, with an additional performance at 2.30pm on Saturday.

Tickets can be bought online at www.barntheatre.co.uk, by phone on 01707 324300, or at the door.

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