Star rating - 6/10
This revival of a 1980's Peter Whelan play deals with the men who volunteer to fight in the First World War from the Lancashire town of Accrington, and with the women they leave behind.
It's a great set, complete with cobbles, tram lines, and interminable dreary rain. And it is very cleverly made to represent the Northern mill town and the Western Front, often at the same time.
There are lots of characters, but sadly none really meaty enough to enable the audience to empathise with them as much as is required for the sad stories involved. Uptight May runs a market stall with Tom, who came to live with her as a boy, and who slowly and painfully discover that their feelings for each other have deepened. And his chirpy friend Ralph, who brings his girlfriend Eva to live with May, and to help her run the stall while they are away at war.
The play feels like a piece of distinctly average writing, acted in the main in an average way, although the actors may settle into their parts a bit when the previews are over. And there was an awful lot of shouting, often when it didn't feel necessary, so dulling the impact when it would have actually been appropriate. A bit more old fashioned voice projection would have been more effective. This is a Royal Exchange first for director James Dacre, but I'm afraid it's a case of damnation by, in the main, faint praise.
But a couple of actors do stand out in the cast - Sarah Ridgeway as Eva, and Shameless star Gerard Kearns as her boyfriend Ralph are great. It's a shame the action didn't hang more on their fun-filled young romantic relationship, as it hurtles towards the inevitable looming tragedy - it might have made a greater impression if it had.
It's a heartbreakingly sad period of course - how the young men of a generation were lost in the carnage of the trenches. And to shine a spotlight on a single community should really serve to amplify this tragedy. But sadly this production feels to be missing something, and fails to make a deep connection with its audience.
But it's still interesting, amusing in places, and a lovely looking piece of theatre.