Broadsides take a Holiday at the edge of darkness

Northern Broadsides theatre
Northern Broadsides theatre
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Amid the battalions of dramas lined up around the country to commemorate the outbreak of the First World War few are as likely to be as simply effective – or moving – as this brand new play from Deborah McAndrew.

It is a specially-commissioned work for Northern Broadsides theatre company so is naturally rooted to the region, on this occasion in the fictional Greenmill, halfway up a hill somewhere in East Lancashire.

As a drama about the effects of war on such a small community it is bound to draw comparisons with The Accrington Pals, but in its use of a central stage motif – the annual rushcart ceremony – to signify change and lost tradition, it also borrows just a little of the War Horse effect.

With only a fraction of that production’s resources it lands, inevitably, the same sort of emotional punch.

The first act suggests there’s quite enough conflict in the village, without any help from Europe’s leaders, as Greenmill stages morris dancing rehearsals for its big event, and young love draws battle lines between two families.

McAndrew’s play gently illustrates how maybe such an inward-looking community carried the seeds of its own destruction when distant conflict offered its young men an alternative.

“There’s ideas in it,” says one of them.

Without laying it all on too heavily her cotton mill characters also talk of the changes to come in the fabric of society.

But at its heart this is a deeply humane play, where the shock of inevitable bad news can make its audience palpably shake, or they can be equally moved to warmly applaud the song and dance sequences.

The moment that one such morris dance seamlessly becomes a martial march towards war is unerring testament to both Barrie Rutter’s direction and Conrad Nelson’s music and choreography.

Even if you miss it here, before Saturday, well worth catching elsewhere.

David Upton