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June 06, 2017

Accrington Pals

If you want to know what an audience makes of a Pirton Players production, then I’d urge you to volunteer and assist the one-and-only Ed Picken behind the bar, for, as members stream out during the interval and after the show, I guarantee you’ll catch much of their mood and hear at first hand what the paying public think. Our Village Hall “theatregoers” were virtually queuing to give me their spontaneous reactions to what they’d experienced, so moved were they by the production.: ‘excellent’….’poignant’…’the sets were economical and perfect’…’the lives of such ordinary (yet extraordinary) people translate so well to a village setting’…’the acting was great – absolutely to the point’….’the nudity was handled sensitively’…’quaintly English’…’tragic, terribly tragic’…’the production excellently portrayed the changing lives of women’… ‘excellent use of sound and light as the men go over the top’. And so the plaudits rained thick and fast.

Scheduled by the estimable Pirton Players to commemorate the centenary on Friday 1st July of the long, senseless and terrible bloodbath that was the Battle of the Somme – which saw some 57, 000 casualties on the first of fighting alone – the Accrington Pals is loosely based upon the true story of a Lancashire community responding to Kitchener’s call for a New Army to be formed of battalions from the same town and surrounding district – the ‘Pals’. The idea was that the recruits would fight alongside friends and relatives.

The play contrasts the lives of the new, raw soldiers with those of the women and children left at home and takes the audience on a profoundly moving journey, with many a light-hearted and humorous moment, which culminates in the devastating loss of 600 men and boys of the 700-strong Pals battalion – news which, by degree, filters through at first via unofficial channels to those left at home. The play is also a tribute to communities the length and breadth of our land, not the least being Pirton and the sacrifices made by so many whom we now remember, including Private Frank Handscombe, the first Pirton man to die at the Somme.

Margaret Johnson’s direction was masterful; the company of ten excellent, with many fine individual and ensemble pieces, played with sensitivity and, at times, much needed humour. Oh – and the accents convinced me. We’ve come to expect excellent back stage and technical support and again were not disappointed, with clever use of sound, light and staging to support the unfolding drama. The costumes, props and set all combined to help create the atmosphere. Many congratulations and a huge thank you to everyone associated with this important and memorable production.

Might I end this review by echoing the words of the song which the cast and crew performed with such emotional impact to bring the production to a poignant close.

‘Their precious lives they gave upon the field, and many generations passed before the grief was healed’. [Review by: Peter Harding]


Director - Margaret Johnson

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