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

A gazetteer of gallantry

wives of Accrington Pals

The wives who waited for news frm the front as fathers, husbands, brothers and sons died

The Accrington Pals

The Grange Players

Grange Playhouse, Walsall


STAGED to coincide with the 100th anniversary of The Great War, thisaccrington pals sodier moving play by Peter Whelan takes a very different look at the conflict, declining to concentrate on the horrors of men sent to the front.

Much of the action is in the Lancashire mill town of Accrington before the new recruits head for the Battle of the Somme, with women preparing to be parted from their loved ones – hopefully a temporary measure prior to a return as heroes.

In this production the first thing that strikes you is how young the majority of the cast are, which in itself is a poignant reminder that so many of the novice soldiers killed in the dreadful conflict were kids hardly out of their teens.

The title of the play refers to the fact that some World War I battalions were formed from towns and cities in the belief that friends were likely to fight better shoulder-to-shoulder with their pals.

Accrington was one of the smallest towns to send a ‘Pals Battalion’ – and just 135 of their original 720 Tommies survived the horrendous first day.

Young Phebe Jackson gives a wonderful performance as May, the strong-willed market stallholder, and Nathalie Colen impresses as the more emotional Eva, with good support from Emma Shaw (Annie), Katie Arblaster (Sarah) and Sarah Richards (Bertha).

The play begins at a rather slow pace, and the first incident to really stir the audience is at the start of the second act when soldier Ralph (Joseph Hicklin) appears naked in a tin bath with girlfriend Eva scrubbing his back before he leaps out, snatching a protective towel with perfect timing!

Nathalie has another big scene in which she sings Edward German’s O Peaceful England at a concert, and appears to break down before she can finish the piece.

The 11th (Service) Battalion (Accrington) East Lancashire Regiment, the Accrington Pals, 1,100 strong, arrived in France in 1916 and took part in the attack on Serre on the opening day of the Battle of the Somme. Of the 720 in the attack 584 were killed, wounded or missing, all on a single day, 1 July, 1916.


After the amusing bathtime incident the action accelerates, with a spot of bother between some of the girls, an inevitable consequence of the anxieties which begin to develop with the lads now at the front and so little information reaching their loved ones.

The tin bath makes a second appearance, but not for the same reason.

While the ladies get most of the medals for this production, there are fine performances from Joseph Hicklin (Ralph), Stephen Arnold (Tom), Chris Shaw (Arthur), Will Young (Reggie) and Dan Payne (Sgt Major Rivers)

Realistic sound effects come near the end of the play when the lads charge from the trenches to face merciless machine gun fire, and gradually the women receive the agonising news of terrible losses.

The set, designed by Tony Groves and Julie Lomas, works well with its cobbled street, market scene and the trenches.

Tickets have gone slowly so far, but if reluctant patrons think this is just another war story, they could be missing out.

Splendidly directed by Julie Lomas, this battle at home and away runs to 26.07.14.

Paul Marston


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