The Accrington Pals (1985)
by Peter Whelan
Directed by Pip Piacentino
In 1916 the British Army, running out of cannon fodder for the trenches, introduced a policy of recruitment based on enticing men into the army from the same towns. Lord Mayors were encouraged to call for volunteers from the same towns and the famous Pals regiments were formed. Accrington, a small town in Lancaster, was the smallest town in England to field a full battalion of a thousand men. On the first day of the Battle of the Somme "the Pals" were in the front line that walked towards the German trenches believing the generals' promise that it would be a pushover. Contemporary accounts say that there was not a family in Accrington that had not lost a father, son or brother. One woman lost her husband and three sons. The effect on the town was so disastrous that the government dropped the policy almost immediately.
- Tom Hackford - Leigh Smith
- May Hassal - Nikki Hogg
- Arthur Boggis - Peter Rochford
- Reggie Boggis - Dean Jenkins
- Ralph - Jonathan Lewis
- Eva Mason - Josephine Hussey
- Sarah Harding - Laura Hussey
- Betha Treecott - Alison Lees
- C.S.M. Rivers - Geoff Kenton
- Director's Personal Assistant - Delia Taitt
- Stage Manager - Iris Lenny
- Assistant Stage Managers - Sue Arnold & Lisa Barden
- Set Design - Victor Kelly
- Set Construction - David Lamkin
- Lighting - Richard Wood
- Sound Design - Mark Ahearn
- Sound Operator - Bob Marshall
- Sound Recording - Bill Peters
- Prompt - Linda White
- Wardrobe - Frances Walker
- Pianist - Lynn Jenner
- Publicity Assistant - Keith Borgust
In World War One, we are told, the town of Accrington raised its own battalion, known as "The Accrington Pals". They were all but wiped out in the murderous Battle of the Somme.
The story inspired Peter Whelan's play of the same name. It was performed in SLTC's Prompt Corner, where every seat in the house had been snapped up in advance. Pip Piacentino's production was, like the trench warfare of the doomed men, a grey landscape intermittantly illuminated by brilliant flashes.
The domestic action tended to settle down into a comfortable "Coronation Street" style, more gossip than grip. Yet the tensions were never far from the surface and the cast were on the whole successful in the creation of character.
First and foremost was Nikki Hogg as the repressed May Hassal, longing to break out of the tight circle of convention but afraid to venture. A quiet and intense performance here with Leigh Smith in support as Tom Hackford, the man so nearly in her life.
Jonathan Lewis and Josephine Hussey established a keen rapport as the couple with no such inhibitions, while Laura Hussey turned on a splendid comic display as the rorty, down-to-earth Sarah Harding.
Peter Rochford was the broody, religious Arthur Boggis, Elizabeth Hansford pulling out the stops as his shrill termagant of a wife. As young Reggie Boggis, Dean Jenkins capably stepped into the cast at the eleventh hour, emerging with much credit.
Alison Lees was the pugnacious Bertha Treecott falling for all the propaganda about the wicked Huns and gallantly doing her bit as a uniformed driver. Geoff Kenton was the company Sergeant-Major, softly spoken with the ladies but in fine voice with his troops. But his rank was surely wrong; the stripes of a Sergeant with no crown?
I felt that a few well-chosen cuts would have tightened up the evening's entertainment. Much of the talk was circular and we often seemed to be treading the same ground. A solid achievement nevertheless.
Donald Madgwick, the Croydon Advertiser as reprinted in SCENE, with permission.
Reminiscences and Anecdotes
It was reported in our magazine SCENE, that the last night was hit by the last of several floods due to burst water pipes affecting the west of the building (Prompt Corner being, fortunately on the East side) leaving the Members' Club Bar flooded, by the time the curtain came down.