When launching the annual Bruntwood Playwriting Prize at the Royal Exchange in Manchester earlier this year, Dame Jenni Murray stated the importance of strong roles for women. She was, however, preaching to the converted. The Exchange’s Autumn/Winter season has had many such roles (not least among them was Lady in Orpheus Descending) and it ends on a high with The Accrington Pals.
Despite being set during the Great War, the play neither focuses on the Front nor the male combatants. The focus instead is on the relationships between the women left behind in a small North-West England town after a huge proportion of the male population sign up in the Pals battalion. Social history is brought to life by James Dacre’s stirring direction, with loss, frustration, resentment and fear resonating within the piece overall. Of particular note were the performances of Emma Lowndes and Sarah Ridgeway, which stand out for the sheer depth of emotions conveyed. The experiences of the troops is generally well documented in theatre, film and television, but this production gives an uncommon insight into the lives of ordinary women who had to wait for any news with trepidation and struggled with the ever present fear of bereavement, whilst attempting to maintain some semblance of normality.