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An August Bank Holiday Lark at The Rose Theatre, Kingston – review

PUBLISHED: 13:51 16 June 2014

Archant

2014 has already seen several tributes marking 100 years since the start of the First World War. However, Deborah McAndrews’ specially commissioned story of a rural Lancashire community taken unawares by the events of 1914 has to be up there with the most powerful.

Director, Barrie Rutter, centres the action on the ‘lads and lasses’ living in a village dominated by the harsh regimes of the Penine valley cotton mills. Respite comes in the form of the August Rushcart parade, where a life-size cart is led through the village (too large to be brought on stage fully-constructed, its clever assembly becomes part of the action). Piled high with rushes, it is chaperoned by a team of joyful, ribbon-bedecked Morris dancers.

However, that innocent, country tradition is threatened by events in Europe, as Kitchener’s recruitment drives begin to impact on the rural north of England and dancers are called away to do their patriotic duty.

The war is, at first, treated by the ‘lads and lasses’ with the same innocent bravado and naïveté as the Morris dancers’ annual ‘August Bank Holiday Lark’. The oft-quoted belief that the fighting would all be over by Christmas keeps the horror at bay at first, even when several of their number are away in the trenches. Yet, as inevitable news of losses arrives, the conflict’s long-term effects on the lives and lifestyle of those living in the devastated village become very clear.

The 12-strong cast display multiple skills, from authentic Morris dancing and foot-tapping live instrumentals to heart-breaking portrayals of fear and loss. Rutter also plays John Farrar, Squire and bombastic father of two Morris dancing sons, turned soldiers. His silent reaction to the death of his boys in amidst everyone else’s noisy grief was the most powerful moment of the entire play - possibly of any wartime tribute presented so far this year.

John Farrar’s daughter, Mary, (Emily Butterfield) and her husband, Frank, (Darren Kuppan) offer a touching symbol of hope and new life at the end of the play. But the message is clear. This was a war that destroyed millions of lives, both on the battlefields and back home. Not only did it decimate families, but it put paid to many of the innocent pleasures that helped the daily grind become that bit more bearable. It is those losses, too, that the audience was invited to mourn in this powerful, moving piece.

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