GDIF: Blue Remembered Hills by De Roovers – Review – ★★½
A show that never lives up to thrill of the journey to get there – but an admirable effort to recreate Dennis Potter’s play in the wilds of West Thamesmead.
If there’s a risk that the Greenwich + Dockland International Festival (GDIF) runs, it’s that sometimes the spectacular (and unexpected) settings can somewhat upstage the programmed activities. So it is, unfortunately, with De Roovers’ ambitious, site-specific reincarnation of Dennis Potter’s 1979 TV play.
A coach journey from Abbey Wood station delivers audience members, school trip-style, to a back-of-beyond landscape which is so wild and rugged it’s really impossible to believe that the throbbing heart of the capital is just 10 miles to the west. This is forbidden territory, land that has been off-limits to the public for over a century. As the coach trundles to a stop, covered bleachers, a bar, and a food truck emerge from the dune-scape, an oasis in the wilderness. That food truck is home to some excellent veggie Bolani (Afghani flatbreads), from Naan-O-Peyaz – worth the trip alone! (They do meaty stuff too, but we’re holier than thou).
The setting is stunning – the play itself, unfortunately, underwhelming. De Roovers have chosen a text which is now quite commonly read and performed by GCSE Drama students in Britain, and whilst it’s easy to see why Potter’s play makes for fun performing at that level, here it just feels a bit ‘so what?’. The adult actors are game, embodying 1940s pre-teens passing their summer days with imagination-fuelled games and squirrel-bothering. Eventually things take a turn for the dark, and there’s an undeniably explosive climax. But there is the inescapable sense that opportunities have been missed – the scale and scope of the production doesn’t match up to the possibilities provided by the location, such that it is far too easy to imagine this exact production moved back to a traditional theatre space with few alterations.
Blue Remembered Hills is not boring, or dull, or poorly performed – but it’s just not inspirational or awesome in a way that the space perhaps demands. Whither grand-scale puppets, or grand pyrotechnics, or a cast of thousands? It all just feels too small on this big stage. An open goal missed, then, but not without some merit: the acting is solid (one performer, injured and on crutches, is accommodated seamlessly), the movement of the players on uneven terrain bold and full of energy, and the climactic moments against a dark sky will stick in the memory.