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An August Bank Holiday Lark
West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds
It's unlikely that Michael Gove will approve of An August Bank Holiday Lark.
Commissioned to commemorate the centenary of WWI, Northern Broadside's latest play certainly doesn't celebrate it as a "just war."
Rather, Deborah McAndrew's gentle tale depicts the kind of village life creaking under the weight of holidays to Blackpool and votes for women even before the arrival of Kitchener's recruitment drive.
In the Pennine mill village where the play is set in 1914, the greatest worry is finding eight Morris men for the annual rush-cart festival and securing trim for the squire's hat after an incident involving the neighbour's chickens.
The war seems a distant threat yet it is an opportunity for top clog dancer Frank (Darren Kuppan) to prove his worthiness to wed the squire's daughter Mary (Emily Butterfield) and a chance for young men to make a stand for "ideas."
The poignancy of this vanishing community is beautifully captured during one of the key scenes when a rush-cart - a towering wagon piled with cut reeds and flowers - is constructed before the audience.
Accompanied by Conrad Nelson's joyous music and exhilarating clog- dancing choreography, the festive spirit is such that when the cart is paraded around the stage with hapless jockey Herbert (Mark Thomas) waving from the top, the audience waves back.
Fast-forward a year and the community has been torn apart, with the lives of young millworkers lost in the Dardanelles and the women left behind contemplating a life without a sweetheart.
This shift in mood is powerfully signalled by Barrie Rutter as the squire. Having spent the first act being a parody of his larger than life persona, now he is a broken man symbolising the loss of life, community and tradition.
This sombre note contrasts sharply with the bantering humour earlier and, while the plot may occasionally be spread thinner than dripping, the play is superbly evocative and poignantly acted throughout.
Tours until June 14, details: www.northern-broadsides.co.uk.
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