Northern Broadsides’ An August Bank Holiday Lark comes to town laden with praise from the national critics. Rightly so. This is a fine evening of theatre.
Deborah McAndrew has fashioned a before and after story of the effects of war on a small community. We only need to remember the statistics for a regiment like the Accrington Pals – at the Battle of the Somme 720 men went into action, 584 were killed, wounded or listed as missing – to gauge the consequences.
The first act provides the audience with song, dance, good jokes (the one about Wales was particularly appreciated), an overbearing father and thwarted lovers. How good it is to see a large cast production, and where does Barrie Rutter find so many versatile actors? The packed audience loved every minute of the music and dancing. The portrayal of the pre-war idyll was a little romanticised, but the modern world lurked in the background with the problems of industrialisation well established.
Act II was much more austere as news of the deaths of the young men filtered through to the village.
So many men had died that the traditional Morris dancing and festive decoration of the Rushcart could not take place. Even the one soldier to return had lost a leg.
For me, the astringency of the second half did not fully balance the exuberance of the first, but how could it? We know about the appalling loss of life and Deborah McAndrew was right to personalise the theme through the two young lovers, excellently played by Darren Kuppan and Emily Butterfield.
Even from the sadness at the death of so many, there were some glimmers of optimism. The son that Frank returns to is a promise for the future and the final scene has the cast onstage, dancing again, but with the women participating fully.
It runs at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, until Saturday April 26, daily at 7.30pm and a matinee on Saturday at 2.30pm
Review by Mike Tilling