Peter Whelan’s Accrington Pals stands out from the plethora of World War One plays in its avoidance of gratuitous battlefield violence, instead telling the true story of the war effort in a small Lancashire community. Accrington was the smallest town in England to raise a volunteer Pals Brigade to fight in France. The play portrays the effect war has on the men who go to fight it, and the women left behind.
While the first act of Tower Theatre Company‘s interpretation lays an interesting groundwork, the second act is where this play comes into its own. Emotions run high as the women on the home front wait to hear news about their husbands, fathers and brothers. Reactions range from grief to guilt to denial, saying as much about the community as a whole as it does about the individuals. Many WWI theatre pieces come across as stuffy and distanced but this remains fresh, and despite the dark threat of the war lingering throughout, it’s interspersed with tasteful humour.
So polished were the performances that we wouldn’t have known it was opening night save for the smell of fresh paint disseminating from the set. Jillian Bradley handles the character of introvert May skilfully, provided with the perfect antidote in Amy Harrison’s Eva. Support characters Sarah (Michelle Fox) and Bertha (Jenny Ross) tread a fine line between girly giddishness and pantomime fodder.
Despite the subject matter being nearly a century old, several themes are still relevant today and brought to light in this production, making it relatable to a modern day audience. In particular, the demystifying of men’s jobs that women take over and the acknowledgement of men’s fear of displacement in the workforce strikes a chord with audiences.
Tower Theatre Company’s production of The Accrington Pals runs until 22 March 2014 at The Bridewell Theatre, Bride Lane, EC4Y 8EQ. Book tickets here. Londonist saw this show on a complimentary review ticket.