TOBIAS Clay of Identity Theatre has it pretty spot on when he says that “children can be fickle”.

We’ve all experienced the spontaneous nature of youth, especially in the school playground, where, as Clay adds, the popular kid can become a social pariah in the space of a few days. And vice versa. Dennis Potter’s Blue Remembered Hills, originally written for BBC television and broadcast in 1979, deals with the devastating consequences of children’s carelessness.

Those in the play come from families with little money and have seen their fathers disappear overseas to fight in a war the children can’t possibly understand. As they idly play in their rural surroundings of the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire, themes of bullying and isolation begin to creep into the plot. There’s more than a hint of Lord of the Flies in Blue Remembered Hills as a hierarchy of power is established amid the looming spectre of World War Two.

Identity Theatre’s production first came to the stage in Southwick last summer. After being entered for the Brighton and Hove Arts Council Theatre Awards, it scooped a number of gongs including the Arthur Churchill Award for Excellence and Best Actor for Clay. The whimsical, enchanting feel of Brighton Open Air Theatre should suit the play’s setting and accentuate its hazy, faraway atmosphere. Director Gary Cook says Blue Remembered Hills’ plot revolves around a “series of events that could happen to any child”.

He adds: “It’s less a question of bullying and more one of carelessness; we’re not talking about very old or educated people. There’s just thoughtlessly playing.” Kate Stoner is one of seven adults who play children in the play, in this case the “tomboy” Audrey. She agrees with Cook’s verdict. “The children are completely unaware that it is bullying. They do and say what they think without thinking of the repercussions.”

As for Clay, the research carried out for his ostracised character Donald involved trawling the web for information on pyromania. “I learned that it isn’t actually a mental condition – it’s a kind of behaviour picked up through abuse.” He concurs with his cohorts in his view that “none of the children are evil or bad per se.”

Dennis Potter was adamant that his characters should be played by adults and in the original TV version the cast included Michael Elphick and Helen Mirren. Clay says this approach “allows the actors to show difficult children’s behaviour can be”. He adds that audiences can find it hard to get used to the sight of full-grown adults wearing shorts and acting like children, at least initially, but the novelty soon wears off. Stoner has a headstart in channelling the characteristics of youth.

“I teach and have worked with children for many years,” she says, “so I learnt a lot just through observation. I think I am naturally a child at heart even though I’ve hit 50.”

As for the war, Potter wrote from his own experience of growing up amid the turbulence heard in snippets on the radio or read in newspapers. Cook is keen to point out that Blue Remembered Hills is not “a classic Goodnight Mr Tom type war story” and that the fighting elsewhere is just a way of framing the story.

Indeed the audience is made to feel more aware of the war than the children, with air-raid sirens blaring every so often. “It’s not essentially about the war, more about the relations between the kids under the backdrop of that rumbling on,” says Clay. Just as Lord of the Flies touches a nerve with everyone who has seen it, Cook says Blue Remembered Hills has endless emotional resonance – not to mention social relevance.

“As an audience you can see parallels with office and school bullying – putting people in difficult situations with careless, hurtful words and not realising how badly off that person might be. There is a lot of depth to the play.”

Blue Remembered Hills
Brighton Open Air Theatre, today and tomorrow, 7.30pm, £10. For tickets and more information visit