COUNTRY LIFE To 5 November.


by Peter Briffa.

Old Red Lion Theatre 418 St John Street EC1V 4NJ To 5 November 2011.
Tue-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat 3pm.
Runs 1hr 45min One interval.

TICKETS: 0844 412 4307.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 22 October.

Quietly, craftily pleasant, if a little too restrained.
Earning its upgrade from the Camden Festival, Peter Briffa’s play is a mordant three-hander showing that while increasing age might make things happen more slowly and without the attack on which youth thrives, its reputation for wisdom doesn’t prevent senior lives involving jealousy, anger, rivalry and criminality.

Set over four months – naturally enough those that move from summer to the end of autumn – the two scenes of each act are occasioned by a funeral. With an extra death thrown in for good mordant measure. Despite designer Rachael Vaughan’s attractive floral patches, which admirably create the sense of rural peace, everything in the garden’s far from lovely.

Alleged doctor Jim is sussed by ex-policeman Kenneth (who starts out seeming gaga, simply because he’s temporarily toothless) when he visits the West Country he’d first known as a wartime evacuee, for the funeral of a lady friend. There’s sniping, attacking and defensive, between the two men, with cross-accusations (and cross accusations), though in a neat piece of side-stepping Barbara, whose interests both claim to serve, outdoes them in her behaviour.

Paul Blinkhorn’s cast serve Briffa’s script well. There’s a striking contrast between Chris Bearne’s perennial suavity as Jim, with his ability to downplay any little lapses in his past, and David Forest’s ferret-like insistence, digging into his memory and building-up suspicions, as Barbara’s protective neighbour.

Marji Campi sails serenely through the action as they attempt to avoid worrying her by keeping the peace in her presence. Blithely smiling her way though the season, like the old lady in The Ladykillers, Barbara finally gives the title of that Ealing film a new sense.

Briffa develops his situation with neat comic touches. For all that the production is about lives supposedly full of calm of mind, all passion spent, it’s clear passions are far from entirely spent. The performances make the point best through clearly-spoken dialogue. The pace overall can be unvaried and deliberate, and there are times it would be nice to find the script handled just a bit more – well, unexpectedly. But that’s not a total handicap in this quietly pleasant, dark-edged piece.

Barbara: Marji Campi.
Jim: Chris Bearne.
Kenneth: David Forest.

Director: Paul Blinkhorn.
Designer: Rachael Vaughan.
Lighting: Aaron J Dootson.
Sound: Simon James Cookson.
Assistant director: Margot Pryzmierska.

2011-10-23 11:20:45

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