This week sees the Denys Edwards Player’s bring their production of Peter Whelan’s Accrington Pals to the the Library Theatre, Sheffield.
Wednesday’s opening night saw Tim Wright on his directorial debut successfully bring this gritty Northern drama to life for the theatre-going public of Sheffield and its surrounding areas.
Set in Accrington and ultimately The Somme, during the First World War between September 1914 and July 1916, the piece centres around a small group of working class folk, caught up equally in both the patriotic hype engendered by Lord Kitchener as he unashamedly recruited ‘’groups of pals’’ to join the war effort and the emotional turmoil endured by their wives and girlfriends left at home as they struggled to deal with both the departure of and the void left behind by their loved ones.
The cast brought together on this occasion, sees a good range and combination of both age and experience and it worked beautifully.
Danni B Hibbert as May Hassal, cast as a woman hardened by life and the opinions of others and yet allowing the audience to clearly see her emotional turmoil as she struggles to ‘’do the right thing’’ by fending off the advances of a younger man Tom Hackford, plays the role with just the right mix of compassion and angst.
In comparison the sensitivity and philosophical idealisms of Tom portrayed with accomplished confidence by Daniel Mitchell was exactly what was called for.
The supporting sub plot between young lovers Ralph Ashton and Eva Mason, played in turn by Euan Coddrington and Niamh Ingle, brought us a naïve romance built on youthful enthusiasm and the promise of a better future after the war has ended. Again both actors displayed an intuitive understanding of what was required to bring their characters to life and they did it in style.
A special mention at this point must go to Euan Coddrington for having both the commitment and confidence borne of youth which sees him not only bathing in a tin bath but doing so naked, that, sir, is taking your art seriously, well done!
The rest of the supporting cast were all very strong and turned out some individually exceptional performances which served to further enhance the quality of the piece and a perfect reminder were one needed that there are no small parts, only small actors.
The second act sees action switching between the trenches in The Somme and the lives being led by the women folk back in Accrington, Tim Wright captures very well the differing extremes of emotion leading to the simple but very effective ‘’Over the top onslaught’’ which encapsulates the futility of war and subsequent loss of life in a powerful and emotionally charged manner.
A small but necessary point to add would be that at times the scene changes were a little laboured which served to disrupt continuity but at the same time didn’t detract from the overall onstage performance.
Actors can at times be quite selfish animals but NOT in this production. The portrayal of the range of emotions experienced by those dealing with the cruel, brutality of war from both sides was inciteful and sensitive, which served to make the whole piece not only overwhelmingly emotional BUT both realistic & believable!!! The chemistry and teamwork was evident and played an immense part in making Accrington Pals a well-crafted, rounded experience for everyone, cast and audience alike.
Tim Wright and Denys Edwards Players should be very proud to have brought Accrington Pals to Sheffield this week, in the centenary year since the First World War began. It is a fitting tribute to the young men who paid the ultimate sacrifice in their best efforts to keep the rest of the nation not only safe from tyranny but free to enjoy a life which so many of them didn’t return to experience.
Accrington Pals is on at the Library Theatre, Sheffield until Saturday, April 19. I would highly recommend that when you go and see it you make sure you take plenty of tissues.