Monday, 28 January 2013

The Accrington Pals in the First World War

Theatre Review at Royal Exchange, Manchester:

IT'S not 'The Good Soldier Schweik in the First World War' by Bertold Brecht or 'Oh, What A Lovely War' by Joan Littlewood, but Peter Whelan's 'The Accrington Pals' at now on at Manchester's Royal Exchange Theatre, is a treat to see. In the queue to buy seats last Saturday someone said on of the review critics had complained that the dialogue was far too broad for the Southerners to understand. We all laughed at that! Even though some of those present laughing in the queue were from South Manchester, and even Cheshire. Accrington Pals is, of course, full of the language of Northern Lancashire.

The author, Peter Whelan, says:
'I walked to streets of Accrington to get a feeling of the town and spent rewarding hours in Accrington library. I was well looked after there (long live libraries). I ... pored over their microfilm archive of the Accrington Observer... living through the reports of those weeks either side of the Somme battle. Then, as I began to people the play, the memories of my family again made themselves felt... some suggesting the beginnings of characters, some contributing family sayings, attitudes, anecdotes or jokes.'

But it is the central character, May, and her semi-detached and undeveloped romantic relationship with her second cousin, Tom, that forms a tension in the play:  portrayed early on by May mishearing the sensitive Tom, heard merrymaking and carousing after the pubs closed with his pals outside May's house after signing up to join the 11th (Service) Battalion (Accrington) East Lancashire Regiment, which was dubbed the 'Accrington Pals'. May, thought she heard Tom shout 'I'll be glad to get away from her!,' but Tom claimed he said: 'I'll be glad to get away from here!'

Michael Billington, in The Guardian, wrote that when he first saw the play in the Royal Shakespeare Company's production in 1981 he felt 'it belonged to the Manchester playwriting school of Harold Brighouse and Standley Houghton'. This 'realistic' Manchester school of playwrights, was founded in the early 1900s, and Chris Draper in Northern Voices No.13 gave the Royal Exchange his top billing in 'Six O' the Best Northern Theatres'.

No comments: