Barrie Rutter’s company live up to their name by firing a Broadside of Northernness from the stage in Deborah McAndrew’s new play, specially commissioned to coincide with this year’s WW1 centenary commemorations.
In building a tale that speaks of the loss of youth and innocence, McAndrew chooses to show us a slice of life in more idyllic times, as a rural community prepare for their annual village festival before seeing their sons off to the front.
The rush bearing ceremonies, that in times past took place in the August Wakes Weeks, bring the community together in the balmy summer air with the mounting celebrations, preparation of costumes and the building of the rushcart. This year, however, the atmosphere is also tainted with the smell of war as young men from the village are called up.
Whereas in Broadsides’ last visiting production the musical interludes seemed incongruous, here they grow organically out of the story. There is a great deal of Morris dancing accompanied by an onstage band and both music and footwork are impressively authentic. Conrad Nelson worked with the Saddleworth Morris Men to get this right.
As we’ve come to expect from Northern Broadsides, stage designs (here by Lis Evans) are inventive and substantial, and complemented by deft, warm lighting from Mark Howland.
Amidst the preparations for the Rushcart Festival we learn that the Squire’s daughter Mary has the affection of Frank Armitage, but her father doesn’t see him as a fit match. In an effort to show himself worthy of her hand, Frank resolves to join up in the forces along with Mary’s two brothers Edward and William. They’re barely married before Frank has to go back to the barracks.
By the closing pages we have seen the ravages with which war punishes those who are left behind, as they wait to discover whether what will come home is a loved one or a telegram. The story’s destination has a big emotional payoff, while the drama takes the scenic route in getting there. It is the pastoral slowness of the earlier parts of the play that make the ending all the more poignant.
The cast all give spirited performances but most notable among them are charming central roles by Darren Kuppan and Emily Butterfield as Frank and Mary and by Jack Quarton and Ben Burman as Edward and William.
Broadsides founder and Artistic Director Barrie Rutter is a true old school actor-manager and whenever he takes to the boards he is always a commanding figure. Here, both directing and playing the part of the overbearing Squire John Farrar, he is larger than life and a force to be reckoned with.
An August Bank Holiday Lark has been co-produced by Northern Broadsides and The New Vic Newcastle-under-Lyme, where it received its premiere in February. It runs at Liverpool Playhouse until Saturday 3rd May, after which it continues touring via Watford Palace, Oxford Playhouse, Derby Theatre, Cheltenham Everyman, Rose Theatre Kingston and to Oldham Coliseum where it closes on 14th June. The full tour schedule is available at www.northern-broadsides.co.uk