I was fortunate to see this play, but it was by almost complete coincidence that I was able to. I was visiting my mother, who lives in Wenhaston, Suffolk, and friends had got her a ticket to see this latest production by the Circle67 theatre group (www.circle67.co.uk). When she told them I was visiting, they kindly got me a ticket too. I saw the play in Bramfield Village Hall, which proved to be a very suitable venue.
The action of the play centres on the Lancashire town of Accrington in 1914, where some 700 young men are preparing to answer Lord Kitchener’s call to form a ‘Pals’ regiment to fight the enemy shoulder-to-shoulder with their friends and relations. It deals with the effect on the local community of the departure of their menfolk, first to training camps in Wales, Staffordshire and Yorkshire, but ultimately to France and the Somme. In particular, we see the contrasting relationships of Eva and Ralph, and of May and Tom. May (Mia Chadwick), is portrayed as a frustrated spinster-like character, who is in love with her young lodger and second cousin,Tom, but is unable to admit it. In contrast Eva and Ralph are enjoying a full-on relationship which was probably not approved of at the time! Other characters include Sarah, who comes across as someone who probably doesn’t take marital fidelity too seriously, and Annie, whose bible-bashing husband has joined the Pals, leaving her with a son to look after, which she seems to struggle with.
The action moves to the Summer of 1916, and the battle of the Somme, where most of the Pals are killed. Back in Accrington their womenfolk struggle to find out what has happened to their loved ones. Eva is central in their efforts to demand the truth from the authorities. At the end of the play we are left wondering what the future holds for the women of Accrington who have lost sons, husbands, and boyfriends on the killing fields of the Somme.
The play is performed on a fixed set, which enables events in Accrington and the Pals regiment to be shown simultaneously. I thought this was very effective. Of the actors, Mia Chadwick was outstanding and convincing in her portrayal of May Hassal. But all the cast performed their roles well, and I congratulate Circle67 for performing this play, which I greatly enjoyed.