The Accrington Pals
By Peter Whelan
24 - 29 October, 2011
May not happy that Tom is going off to war
Concern for Reggie
Bertha gets a job on the Tram
CSM Rivers explains Tom's death
Accrington during 1914 – 1916. The “Pals” are the men from the local volunteer battalion who march high-spiritedly off to the Great War. Their experiences in the trenches contrast with those of the women left behind. At times funny, at times sad, this play paints a moving picture of the changes in civilian life during wartime, especially from the point of view of the women.
I was initially drawn to this play because I knew and admired other plays by Peter Whelan. His focus on the women also appealed to me. My father and his brother, aged fifteen and sixteen respectively, joined up in 1914, lying about their ages. I have often wondered what my grandmother must have thought and felt.
Although the play is based on a real place and situation, the themes have a much wider significance, concentrating on the relationships of the characters. In his preface to The Accrington Pals Whelan suggests that the conflict between May and Tom, the individualist versus the socialist, can be seen clearly in today’s world, even taking on “a global urgency”. He invites us to universalise the ideas of the play, while still appreciating the historical facts. Although our production suggests the period and place, we do not feel that these aspects are the most important. I apologise if any of the audience find that the accents lack authenticity. It is noteworthy that Peter Whelan uses no dialect at all in the script.
Compared with the splendid set of Fatal Attraction, ours is rather skeletal, but it is proving liberating, enabling us to emphasise links between the characters. I am grateful to Tony Leach for creating this minimal but very effective set, to Richard Thompson and Jim Brooks for bringing the set to life through the lighting and effects and to Wardrobes and Props teams for their careful attention to detail.
I am delighted that we have three former members of Kaleidoscope in the Cast, together with two existing members. They are contributing richly, while benefiting from the experience of working alongside more experienced and established BLT members. My thanks to all the Cast.
Bingley Little Theatre’s 64th season continues with the absorbing play, The Accrington Pals by Peter Whelan. The production opens on Monday 24 October and runs until Saturday 29 October at Bingley Arts Centre.
This moving and hard-hitting play is set in Accrington during the first two years of the First World War. While the story itself is fiction, the background is reality. The “Pals” - men from the local volunteer battalion - were formed and fought just as they are described as doing in the play. Their experiences of life on the Western Front are contrasted with those of the women left behind in Accrington. These women had to adapt to new patterns of life facing financial and sexual deprivation, as well as being thrown into the social changes that came along with the absence of many men. The play paints a moving and powerful picture of the changes in civilian life during war-time.
Director Rosemary Grainger says:
“I was initially drawn to the play because I knew and admired other plays by Peter Whelan. The fact that the play concentrated on the women also appealed to me. My father and his brother, aged fifteen and sixteen respectively, joined up in 1914, lying about their ages. I have often wondered what my grandmother must have thought and felt.
On studying the play I realised that although the play is based on a real place and situation, the themes have a much wider significance, focusing on the relationships of the characters. In his preface to The Accrington Pals, Peter Whelan suggests that the conflict between the two main characters, May and Tom, that of the individualist versus the socialist, can be seen clearly in today’s world even taking on “a global urgency”. Whelan invites us to universalise the ideas of the play, while still appreciating the historical facts of the background.”
Julie-Marie Mitchell plays May, the hard-working and strong-minded vegetable stall holder, who aspires to owning a shop. Julie made her debut with BLT in February 2008 in Bad Blood and her last role with BLT was in Pride and Prejudice in February 2010.
Tim Steere plays Tom who is May’s young, idealistic, socialist lodger. Tim’s last appearance with BLT was as Augustus in Arcadia in 2000. He performs regularly in musicals with Keighley Amateurs as well as in plays at Keighley Playhouse.
This production also brings together a group of young people who are current Kaleidoscope members and returning ex members; in fact half the cast has Kaleidoscope connections. Rosemary started this training section of BLT in 2002 and still heads it up today. Young people from the age of eight onwards are trained in the arts of acting, directing and other skills involved in theatre work.
John Darnbrough (Ralph) is a past member of Kaleidoscope and he is now helping on a voluntary basis with the Senior and Advanced classes. Joanne Gray (Bertha), also a former Kaleidoscope member, is helping with the two younger classes, again on a voluntary basis. Vicky Bandy (Sarah) was Assistant Stage Manager for several Kaleidoscope productions while she was a member at the same time as Joanne and John, and this is her third main house production with BLT. Current Kaleidoscope members, Charlie Reynard (Eva) and Jack Smiddy (Reggie) join them in this production.
BLT regulars complete the cast: Yvonne Templeton (Annie), Mark Brown (Arthur) and Gareth James (CSM Rivers).
“I am delighted that we have three former members of Kaleidoscope in the cast, together with two existing members. They are contributing richly, while benefiting from the experience of working alongside more experienced and established BLT members.”
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Further notes on the play & playwright: Peter Whelan This award winning playwright was born in Newcastle under Lyme in 1931, but although he experimented with play writing as a school-boy it was not until the 1970s that he completed a play for performance and publication. After a variety of careers including experience in the army through National Service, he began his writing career in advertising and short film scripting before proceeding to write stage plays.
In 1979, his play Captain Swing was performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company and this was followed by six further plays for the RSC, including The Accrington Pals which was first performed in 1981. He was appointed an Honorary Artistic Associate of the RSC in 1996 and is recognised as one of Britain’s most acclaimed contemporary playwrights
Many of Whelan’s plays are historical dramas in that they are set in the past. His prime concern however is not with famous powerful figures and events, but with ordinary folk. Writing about The Accrington Pals, he explains that while reading a book about the Battle of the Somme, he was fascinated by the behaviour of the women of Accrington. Confused by the optimistic newspaper reports which contradicted the rumours of disaster, they had marched on the Mayor’s office determined to know the truth.
Although this provided a general background Whelan goes on to explain how he evolved the story. It seemed to him that at that time, working people had two distinct ways of bettering themselves: the self-centred route, such as working to get your own shop, and the socialist approach through collectivism and trades unions. He saw this conflict within his own family and so we have a play about the struggle and yet the love between a “strong-minded, rugged individualist woman” and a “dreamy Utopian idealist young man”. As with all his plays, the focus throughout is on the characters and their relationships.
Further notes on the Director – Rosemary Grainger Rosemary started Kaleidoscope (the training section of Bingley Little Theatre) in January 2002 and has directed nine Kaleidoscope productions in the Arts Centre. In addition she has been responsible for the summer productions by the younger classes and the advance class “Showcase” productions.
She co-directed Much Ado About Nothing with Robin Martin in 2004 and directed Katherine Howard in 2006, Ladies in Retirement in 2008 and the Farndale play in 2009, and has been involved with a number of other BLT productions as ASM, helping with props and prompting.
Before retirement she taught English and Drama at The Girls’ Grammar School, Bradford and directed the annual Senior school productions for ten years. In addition she has been involved in various community drama projects and has written and directed several plays which were performed in local churches. Since retirement she has given occasional drama workshops in schools and for the last 4 years run courses of Shakespeare workshops at Belle Vue Girls’school.
Rosemary lives in Keighley where she helps with Children’s work and drama at her local church, runs Traid craft stalls, is a “Fair Trade” Speaker and is also a wife, a mum and a grandma.