by Mary Cooper.

Northumberland Theatre Company Tour to 27 March 2010.
Runs 2hr 25min One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 12 March at Goostrey Village Hall.

Agricultural depression has clearly outlasted Oscar Wilde’s era.
Village Life, judging by audience responses at Goostrey, is much the same throughout the country – at any rate in Cheshire and Northumberland, for whose valuable touring company Mary Cooper researched and wrote her script.

Each village’s life clearly contains contrasting lives within. Partly owing to wealth and class – from those going about in four-wheel drives to those sticking nails in their tyres. And, when it comes to a wind-farm, protest is by both committee and threat. Then there are natives versus new arrivals. They can get on together, but not when the newcomers’ zest for country life hinders local ways.

Recent arrivals Colin and Margaret take contrasting paths, she busily giving people a sense of purpose about their village they don’t all welcome. He withdraws into depression and drink. As Sandra Hunt’s Margaret busies herself with smiles and enthusiasm outside the home, Nigel Collins’ Colin sits there grunting, back turned, handing occasional e-mails over his shoulder before toddling off for a tipple.

With landowners selling to the wind-farmers, the depression resulting from upsetting public opinion verges on the suicidal. There’s a larger argument about how environmentally-friendly the whirring giants actually are, only touched-upon here, but the strains of losing the village while saving the planet are clear.

Unemployment also operates at different social levels. Yet, too, there’s the spirit of several people (though not the local vicar, an appalling stereotype). And Gillian Hambleton’s production has this company’s normal vitality. On a raised stage (necessary when playing in flat-floor village halls) designer Michelle Huitson creates a sense of winding pathways and private property, backed by mixed agrarian styles. When not involved, actors sit round the sides looking in various directions, giving the sense of something less than a community.

Comically stylised parish council meetings open each act. Generally though there’s an arm’s-length stiffness in the playing – from which Hunt’s Margaret and the true locals stand out. It may be to emphasise the artificiality of the modern village, but like a script that successfully raises numerous issues at the expense of exploring individual characters, the impression’s at once recognisable but dramatically muffled.

Margaret: Sandra Hunt.
Toby/Colin/James Welburn Toft: Nigel Collins.
Juliet/Gemma: Gemma Clough.
Mark/Kevin/Cllr Halt: William Reasy.
Rachel/Rev Whittle/Sara Wellburn Toft: Nicola Welburn.

Director: Gillian Hambleton.
Designer: Michelle Huitson.
Lighting: Ben Steppenbeck.

2010-03-15 11:07:07

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