An August Bank Holiday Lark
Reviewed by Berenice Mann

A testament to a well-written script directed and performed to a high standard by a talented team, the award-winning play An August Bank Holiday Lark, about a village in the shadow of World War One, makes outstanding theatre. Set in 1914 in a Lancashire village, this truly enjoyable story receives a wonderful, poignant and powerful treatment by the Combined Actors of Cambridge — more than doing justice to the excellent play — with all the characters skilfully portrayed. It’s a must-see I highly recommend.

An August Bank Holiday The play, written by Deborah McAndrew to mark the centenary of the First World War, brilliantly combines humour and pathos in a tale about a Lancashire village facing the challenges of war and social change. It contrasts the traditional life, loves and squabbles in Greenmill, a Lancashire village, and as the tearing of the fabric of its close-knit society as war looms, young men sign up to fight, women face new challenges and families are left bereft. On at the ADC theatre through Saturday, it focuses on two key families, the Farrars and the Armitages. John Farrar, widower and father of three grown up children, is busy preparing for the traditional Rushbearing Festival which involves the (male) Morris/Clog dancing troupe he leads and all the villagers celebrating. Meanwhile there are old grudges with Alice Armitage, widow and mother of Frank. Early on we discover that Mary Farrar and Frank are secretly walking out together – the secret being kept from John Farrar, by everyone else including Mary’s brothers, Ted and Will. An August Bank Holiday It’s hard to pull out individual performances in this play, as every character was thoroughly crafted by all thirteen actors. However, the leads of Tracy James (Alice), Jodie Haughton (Mary), Peter Simmons (John) and Michael Dodds (Frank) were excellent and surrounded by their strong supporting cast made this a great production.

A key part of the charm was the interspersing of the dancing throughout, initially by the men of the village with the women playing the music. This is a metaphor for the changing society as war comes, the eager young men sign up (‘Grinning as if it were all an August Bank Holiday lark’ — a line in Larkin’s war poem ‘MCMXIV’ that gives the play its name) and the women and remaining men have to manage alone, with the women gradually taking on men’s jobs and even filling the depleted ranks of the dancing. Some of the character names reference poets too. An August Bank Holiday Needless to say, the course of young love does not run smooth. When John finds out his daughter has been seeing Frank, and worse that he is the last to know, he forbids the match. Frank decides to join up with friends Ted and Will, and Mary is bereft as all three young men in her life leave together (very true to life as ‘Pals battalions’ were a common phenomenon in WWI). However Frank becoming a soldier impresses John sufficiently to allow Frank and Mary to marry during a brief leave of absence. As the war continues and fighting starts in earnest, will Frank, Ted and Will ever return to celebrate Rushbearing at Greenmill?

This is a play where it’s hard to pick out scenes without giving away too much but the singing and dancing were powerful and the relationships between the key characters, and with the supporting roles are very well developed – the audience quickly feels they know the villagers. The set was simple but really effective, set outside the houses and church which are indicated by various gates. The dramatic incidents were portrayed very powerfully and sensitively while the political, global, local and social threads of the story are woven very cleverly together.