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The Accrington Pals. Performed by Byley Players.

(October 13, 2012)

My wife and I were privileged to see a very talented group of young actors and actresses perform this very moving play at the delightful Byley Village Hall.

This is not a play for the faint hearted either on stage or off. It is a great challenge to portray the devastating story that is the Accrington Pals and what happened to them that distant day in July 1916 on the Somme and when it is performed this well it is difficult to hold back the tears for their plight and the plight of their loved ones left behind in the way they almost cheerfully went to their fate.

Bethan Wiggett was excellent as May; belying her young years as she portrayed the thirty something spinster with great pathos. Left in charge of her little grocery business and the “adopted” Tom she finds it difficult to come to terms with her feelings that she is too old to see Tom as a possible husband yet cannot deny to herself that she does truly love him. Her anger when he leaves because he feels it is his duty was beautifully portrayed. Jack Stock as Tom was the perfect foil for May, Jack portrayed Tom with the perfect balance that made the audience at once in agreement with him that he had to do his duty but at the same time angry that he could not see that May loved him.

The characters of Ralph and Eva, beautifully played by Tyler Blay and Sarah Hunter are the almost perfect opposites of May and Tom. Eva is happy to share a bed with Ralph even out of wedlock, something very outrageous for the time. Unlike Tom and May neither had the least difficulty in expressing their feelings for each other either verbally or physically which came across most tellingly in the bath scene where a naked Ralph is helped in his task by a totally unconcerned Eva to the consternation of May.

Emily Ellison as Sarah skilfully added some much needed humour into the piece but without detracting from the drama we saw unfolding, whilst Rachel Copley was excellent as the shrewish Annie who falls to pieces when the news of the disaster on the Somme begins to filter through. Reggie, her son was played with just the right amount of “devil” that we could see why Annie was prone to giving him a “clip around the ear” on occasion.

Eirlys Wiggett was first-rate as Bertha; her scenes with the other ladies were poignant and also at times quite funny. It is not easy to play a smallish part; it is difficult to get the personality of your character across but Eirlys succeeded wonderfully.

Alex Sant as the religious Arthur gave a very talented performance as he urged everyone to place their trust in the Lord and do their duty for King and Country; I could totally understand how others could be persuaded by his religious rhetoric.

But my main praise is reserved for Simon Jones as CSM Rivers. If he has never been in the army it is the army’s loss! To say he was completely believable as CSM Rivers is a gross understatement. He was in a nutshell simply magnificent. He looked the part, sounded the part and commanded the stage superbly.

Some in the audience may have picked up on the mention that only seven out of the seven hundred Pals had survived the attack. This was in fact only a rumour put about at the time, but the fact that out of the seven hundred and twenty men who attacked that awful day only one hundred and thirty six came back unharmed is still an awful statistic. (The rest were killed, wounded or captured.)

To get people as young as this to put on a performance as good as this takes a special talent which Director Graham Hough must have in bucket loads, he must be incredibly proud of this brilliant bunch of young people and what they produced for him and the audiences lucky enough to have seen this play. If you missed it I urge you not to miss their next production, “Sing a Song of Sixpence” which they will be performing at Byley from the 23rd to the 26th January 2013.

Alan Lowe.

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KMTC is a not for profit organisation - registered charity number: 1077477

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This amateur production is presented by arrangement with Music Theatre International (Europe)

All authorised performance materials are also supplied by MTI Europe www.MTIShows.co.uk

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