It might seem an odd casting decision, one inviting embarrassed amusement from the audience rather than emotional engagement, but Dennis Potter’s insistence that adult actors play his seven-year-old characters is a masterstroke. Gone is the safe veneer of nostalgia, our ability to distance ourselves from the giddy joy, unbearable desolation and casual cruelty of children. Blue Remembered Hills, currently playing at the Richmond Theatre, is not a window to the past, but an unfiltered, unforgiving mirror.
This bleak and bitingly funny one-act drama, which debuted as a BBC1 Play for Today in 1979, uses one never-ending childhood afternoon in the Forest of Dean as a heightened exploration of society. The shifting power dynamics here are as compelling as the most intricate episode of Mad Men or Game of Thrones, as characters vie for dominance, trade service for favour, make and break alliances, fulfil or transcend expected gender roles, and demonstrate again and again that words are mightier weapons than fists, the blows inflicted far more likely to cause lasting damage.
War invades every game and every tussle of a generation defined by conflict, and there are subtle touches demonstrating the hardships of life in Britain in 1943 (an argument over a coveted apple has particular resonance in the context of rationing), but it is the skirmishes at home that keep us gripped. Without adult niceties, the pack mentality is laid bare as the seven children fight for their position in the pecking order, using any means necessary to avoid the dreaded last place.