Review: The Accrington Pals, Sheffield Library Theatre

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This revival of Peter Whelan’s play by the Denys Edwards Players taps into the huge response to the centenary of the First World War.

The play dramatises the tragedy of a Lancashire ‘Pals’ Battalion, which sent all the young men from a local area off to war together.

Although this was a clever recruiting ploy, it had a catastrophic effect on those neighbourhoods as most of the men who marched off to war together never came back home.

In the case of the Accrington Pals, their battalion was “two years in the making, 10 minutes in the destroying” as 584 out of 700 troops were killed, wounded or missing on the Somme on July 1, 1916.

The drama is played out mostly on the home front, showing the huge changes in women’s lives.

The mainstay of the play is the relationship between May (Danni B Hibbert) and Tom (Daniel Mitchell).

May’s family has come down in the world and she survives by running her late father’s fruit and veg stall. Her background makes her stick out on the terraced back streets and she has hardened herself.

This is most notable in her relationship with the idealistic Tom, who came to live with her family as a child. She loves him but will not act, both because she is older and out of a sense of propriety.

Both are complex characters and the actors really do them justice.

Her best friend Eva (Niamh Ingle) is the opposite, throwing herself into a passionate relationship with Tom’s mate Ralph (Euan Codrington). Both their performances are accomplished and believable and Euan bravely does a nude scene when he has to get out of a tin bath.

The cast do a great job under the direction of Tim Wright and Sue McCormick, showing how patriotism and pride give way to anger and despair in two years.

Clever use of props, lighting, sound and projection all help to create the right atmosphere.

The end, where the Pals become a living war memorial, is very moving. The actors don’t take a bow.

My only real criticism is that too many scene changes disrupt the flow of the action at times.