Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

All pals together on the Somme

Accrington wives

Rachael Louise Pickard as Sarah, Lauren McCarron as May, Charlotte Crowe as Bertha and Jean Wilde as Annie. Pictures: Roy Palmer

The Accrington Pals

Hall Green Little Theatre


PALS battalions was Lord Kitchener’s cunning wheeze to replenish the dwindling supplies of cannon fodder as the stream of willing volunteers started to dwindle.

The idea was simple, encourage all the eligible men from a town or district to join up as a big gang, a load of mates off on a jolly. Mayors and local worthies were recruited as recruiting officers, pushing patriotism with, at no extra charge, the new added ingredient of civic pride. It was almost a competition between towns and their corporations.

The fact the resulting recruits would all be neighbours, workmates, relatives and so on, in the minds of the authorities, meant they would have more loyalty to each other, their regiment and, most important, the country who needed them

It also had the advantage that peer pressure would drag along the shirkers, backsliders and doubters.

It also meant that with the soldiers of a battalion all being from the same town, same schools, same streets, then when the regular massacres of the Western Front occurred, the deaths, grief and losses were concentrated and felt on those same towns, schools, streets. Whole communities were devastated.

While the likes of R C Sherriff’s Journey’s End looks at life on the front lines, Peter Whelan’s play of 1982 concentrates on life back home in the Lancashire mill town of Accrington, among the women left behind.

Strongest of these is May, played Maysuperbly by Lauren McCarron, who knows everyone in the district as they all pass and buy at her fruit and veg stall.

She never manages to tell her younger would be boy-friend Tom that she loves him until it is too late.

Tom, played by Daniel Robert Beaton, is a bit of a dreamer, full of radical, left wing ideas, helping May in his spare time away from being an apprentice lithographic artist.

Lauren McCarron as May with her unanswered questions and regrets about was remained unsaid and undone

May tries desperately to prevent his recruitment only running into the brick wall of CSM Rivers, played by James Weetman. Rivers speaks with a silver tongue but marches to the official tune, although perhaps more than most, he knows what is in store.

Tom’s big friend is Ralph, played by Matt Ludlam with a jack-the-lad air, who is having an accelerated passionate, but inevitably short affair with Eva, who comes along to help May when Tom goes off to war.

Eva, played by Samantha Michaela Lawson, perhaps shows most the change in sexual attitudes during the war when the threat of imminent death was more important to relationships than the social mores that had kept respectable girls chaste, but never caught as one might say, before the outbreak of war and the ensuing carnage.

Third of the trio of men from our own little patch of Accrington is Arthur, a man of God and pigeons, who sees the hand of the Lord in everything. Jon Richardson gives him a pious air of naivety as he heads off to war with his favourite homing pigeon.

His wife is Annie, played beautifully by Jean Wilde. She is finding coping hard and constantly berates her son Reggie, played with a mischievous air by Luke Ellinor from the Youth Theatre.

Reggie is just being a boy but Annie struggles with that, seeing everything in terms of him being naughty which brings at least one terrible beating. Of all the women left behind she finds it most difficult to cope, suffering a nervous breakdown where she has to rely on the son she had spent all her time criticizing.

Then there is Bertha, a tram conductor as women take on men’s roles, played by Charlotte Crowe, who takes the risqué step of raising the hem on her uniform skirt to . . . above the ankle. Horses must have been frightened in the street.

Bertha is shy and reserved, unlike her friend, the flirty, flighty, fun Sarah, played by Rachel Louise Pickard, who sees no reason why the women left behind should not enjoy themselves and she even takes the place of men with unladylike language and comments, at least unladylike for the time.

We all know what is going to happen. There is inevitability about it all. If everyone was going to live happily ever after there would not have been much point to the play.

But the way the tale unfolds does cause its own problems. It is very episodic, 10 scenes in act one and eight in the second act, and even keeping the design simple, which director and designer Roy Palmer has done, it still means there is a constant stop start which inhibits the pace and interrupts the natural rhythm.

Palmer has effective split the stage into three scenes, the veg stall at one side, a table and hearth at the other with an open space in the middle for any other scenes, such as Sara’s back yard as she hung out the washing, or Ralph’s soak in t’tin bath in t’front o’t’ fire, complete with wooden boat, showing perhaps Ralph was still a big kid when he went off to war.

The cast made a decent fist of areggie Lanky accent, sithee, although a couple of times it might have been from parts of God’s own country which have still to be discovered, but it was consistent and, speaking as a born and bred Lancastrian, it were passable.

They kept it simple, without going too broad and simplicity was the key, particularly with the setting.

Daniel Robert Beaton as Tom with the badly beaten Reggie played by Luke Ellinor held by Eva, played by Samantha Michaela Lawson.

Anything too elaborate and changes would take too long, as it was, the key elements - the splendid fruit and veg stall, and its squeaky cart, and May’s sitting room – were the constant fixtures around which the main story revolved.

Anything outside that had the freedom of the stage. Particularly effective was May’s pleadings with the now dead Rivers and Tom, she in a single spot, they in ghostly blue lights above the stage.

Palmer has kept the momentum moving along, despite the relentless scene changes, and, with first night successfully put to bed, no doubt the pace and scene changes will quicken.

There are some fine performances by a splendid cast and it is a fitting tribute to the men of the Pal’s battalions who fought and died in France. 

The battalions were raised around the land, Leeds, Hull, Barnsley, Manchester . . . 142 locally raised battalions, along with a further 68 local reserve battalions.

Accrington was the smallest town to raise a battalion, formed by the Mayor.

A quarter of the men were from the town with the rest from the surrounding towns and villages such as Burnley, Blackburn and Chorley.

On the first day of the Battle of the Somme, 1 July 1916, the Accrington Pals, the 11th Battalion, East Lancashire Regiment, advanced at walking pace, as they had been criminally ordered, to be mown down by German troops who were supposed to have been killed or incapacitated by a huge bombardment. The walking advance, ordered because there would be no resistance, just provided target practice for the largely unscathed Germans.

About 700 untried and unprepared Pals advanced and 585 became casualties, 235 killed and 350 wounded. The Pals had been wiped out. In all 865 men from the town were eventually to die in the conflict, more than 2 per cent of the population. The national average was l.5 per cent.

Of the 100,000 who advanced that day 21,000 died and 35,000 were injured – not one of them was a General.

Whelan’s play tells of just three who died that day and the effect  their deaths had at home. Perhaps audiences are becoming war weary but this deserves better ticket sales than opening night. To 07-02-15

Roger Clarke


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