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Blue Remembered Hills

Nicola Mostyn and how Feelgood Theatre Company are bringing Dennis Potter’s tale of childhood innocence and experience to Heaton Park

Published on July 18th 2007.

Blue Remembered Hills

It’s 1943. A group of children are playing in a forest. Four of them chase a squirrel and trap it up a tree. Elsewhere in the woods, a young boy is being teased by two girls. As the seven children play out their games on this lazy summer day their casual cruelty is just a prelude of what’s to come…

Intrigued? You should be. This is Dennis Potter’s contemporary classic Blue Remembered Hills and it is the first of two plays which Manchester theatre company Feelgood Theatre Productions are bringing to Heaton Park this summer.

“It becomes a total immersion, almost touchable rather than something on a distant stage. (The audience’s) imagination is free as they promenade to each scene – to anticipate what will happen next.”

Whilst their second production - Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream - offers a magical, family-friendly, play-in-a-park experience, Blue Remembered Hills promises something a little darker, an exploration of loyalty, friendship and the loss of childhood innocence with the seven children played by seven adults.

With its comic and tragic take on the joys and fears of being a child, BRH is a powerful play – and an even more potent prospect when delivered on the move in the sprawling greenery of Manchester’s Heaton Park. “The audience step into the set,” explains Feelgood founder and Artistic Director Caroline Clegg of the appeal of outdoor theatre. “It becomes a total immersion, almost touchable rather than something on a distant stage. (The audience’s) imagination is free as they promenade to each scene – to anticipate what will happen next.”

Feelgood have been providing exciting and innovative outdoor theatre for 13 years, initially touring their works until, in 1998, their ambitious productions became too large to tour and they settled on Heaton Park as their venue of choice. This was, Clegg explains, “not only because it offers many varied topographical qualities we can use but because it is Manchester’s finest park - the original ‘Peoples Park’ which is at the heart of Feelgood’s ethos that theatre should be accessible for everyone.”

Since then the company have produced a series of inventive and entertaining shows in Prestwich, including 2005’s Dracula - the Blood Count and 2006’s Arthur - King of the Britons, both of which were sell-outs.

After delivering Blue Remembered Hills in 2000 (which was nominated for A Manchester Evening News award in 2001) Feelgood, and indeed audiences, are looking forward to revisiting Potter’s gripping play. “It is back by popular demand,” explains the Director. “It is one of my favourite pieces. It is also timeless. A stark reminder of how society functions and re-invents conflict generation after generation. Through seven 7 year olds we hold a mirror up to ourselves.”

Those who know the play will be aware that there is an explosive denouement, a scene which will be taken care of by pyrotechnic experts Walk The Plank and should be much-anticipated. “We use techniques developed by the film industry, “explains Production manager Andy Stratford. “And because the play is performed outdoors rather than in a theatre we’re really able to let rip!”

The reason Feelgood are presenting two plays, rather than one, this summer is in celebration of 100 years of Repertory theatre in Manchester. ”My dream is to create a permanent annual repertory company in Manchester,” says Clegg, “and it is fitting that we should begin in this 100th anniversary of the establishment of Repertory Theatre. Without repertory the training and development of new skills and talents will slowly die. We should celebrate this great British institution.”

Blue Remembered Hills (Jul 19 to Jul 28) and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Aug 2 to Aug 18) . Heaton Park (Prestwich. 0161 236 7110. www.quaytickets.com.www.feelgoodtheatre.co.uk) From £8.

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