Blue Remembered Hills

Dennis Potter’s Blue Remembered Hills was one of the star turns of the BBC’s Plays for Today in the late 1970s, the series that spawned a generation of new writers, directors and actors. Potter, of course, was the great innovator with groundbreakers such as Pennies From Heaven and The Singing Detective.
Always keen to push the boundaries of drama per se as well as television drama, in Blue Remembered Hills Potter is dicing with something more modest, if no less intense: children at play.
The story – or rather snapshot – tells of a summer’s afternoon in 1943 where a group of West country children are idling away their time. Is the year symbolic? This is after all, wartime. Their games reflect the mood with a mixture of daring-do fantasy as bomber pilots and parachuters but equally fear and vulnerability. There are fights, ganging up, the quintessential `mums & dads’ sequence reflecting behaviour at home as well as moments of kindness.
The apparent inconsequentiality of the piece shouldn’t disguise us to the fact that Potter, like William Golding’s Lord of the Flies (1954) was exploring the antecedents of cruelty, its roots in childhood and how quickly innocence can turn to brutality.
Still very much a play for today given the levels of bullying constantly quoted in schools and online, it’s no coincidence that Potter chose a quote from A E Housman’s The Shropshire Lad as the title. The piece is infused with a haunting sense of loss and a climax that implies that all those involved will look back on their childhood with deep regret. Actions have consequences and denial is no answer to a collective crime. Potter’s reference here must surely have a wider reference than the Vale of Dean!
As stipulated Blue Remembered Hill’s children are played by adults and in this revival by the up and coming New Rep Theatre, with gusto and sharp characterisation. You wince at Gary Roe’s nascent skinhead, Peter, and warm easily to Glenn Lloyd’s protective Willie. Director Graham Hubbard creates a playground of a simple climbing frame and nicely evokes the atmosphere of the time with popular songs encapsulating its jaunty optimism and tender sentimentality.