Review: A moving, magnificent and memorable play at Priory

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The Accrington Pals,Dir. Susi Walker and Chris Sharp, Priory Theatre, Kenilworth, Until September 20

he Priory presents a topical and timely commemoration of the First World War in the Accrington Pals, a moving, magnificent and memorable play.

In 1914 Lancashire has its own economic depression and the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in a far off country has immediate effects – 700 of the town’s young men willing go to war, leaving parents, wives, girlfriends, children and friends to soldier on in their own ‘valour of life’.

Heroine May Hassle (Cara Gould) runs a greengrocery stall on Waterloo Street. Tom (Liam Hogan-Birse), her cousin and colleague, takes the King’s Shilling, plus ‘pals’,

Ralph (Kevin Wing) and Arthur (Kevin Coughlan). CSM Rivers (James King) has care of them ‘over there’. The women close ranks. There’s May, Ralph’s Eva (Leigh Walker), feisty Sarah (Louise Frenett), Arthur’s Annie (Jo Beckett) left with the care of ‘poor Reggie’ (Connor Cunningham) and clippie Bertha (Emily Johnson) making the best of it with warmth, wit and wisdom in abundance.

The story is not all gloom but of the 700 who set off to war only 130 come back.

The sense of desolation is tangible with the additional pain of the women in their knowledge that the government denies them information. The set is sparse, but effective. If it were me, I’d work out a method of overlapping some scenes to speed up changes. But, for me, this play will stay in my mind for some time and in particular the performances of Cara Gould as May and James King as CSM Rivers – exceptional.

By Jane Howard