by Moira Buffini.
Theatre By The Lake (Studio) Lakeside CA12 5DJ In rep to 6 November 2010.
Mon-Sat 8pm Mat 31 Aug, 6 Nov 2pm.
Runs 2hr 40min One interval.
TICKETS: 017687 74411.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 14 August.
Energised revival of tumultuous play.
There’s a sense of unease, of order under threat, in Moira Buffini’s play; something magnified by the intimacy of Stefan Escreet’s studio production. For many things in the play scream out for epic setting. A thousand years ago, a cart bundled full of people treks across England, pursued as well as threatened by the normal perils of medieval travel. There’s violent action, stormy weather, a cart-wheel coming-off. An English king moving from impotence to rage. The clash of religious beliefs. And a strength of language and purpose in the characters, meaning the abrupt, violent, determined scenes seem ever-ready to burst the theatre’s confines.
It’s an illusion, of course, brought about by the script’s energy and the concentration achieved by the cast in Escreet’s production (the director who, more than any other, has made Keswick’s studio season an unmissably dynamic part of the theatre year). In a larger space the acting style would have to alter, the intensity be more difficult to maintain. Here it grasps and holds compulsively.
The male characters have the public voice of characters from such post-1960s playwrights as Brenton, Bond or Barker. Whether it’s Roger the Priest bewailing (certainly wailing) his fears through James Hogg’s piping performance, Andrew Grose as tough-man Eadric holding the journey together without becoming anyone’s friend, or, in his separate world, King Ethelred.
He’s not rated in history as much of a monarch, but Buffini shows a weak personality pushed by necessity into the brutality his power provides like a suit of armour. Christopher Webster’s Ethelred is someone whose early humiliations and complaints will be revenged on the world by a ruthless callousness that will reflect only on what’s to his advantage. Declamatory and staring, he’s not going to show weakness again, which makes him very dangerous.
There’s a different strength among the women, the strength of innocence in Silence, unaware even of his/her sex and the strength of a tough-minded, independent woman in Ymma. Sarah Groarke plays her to the determined hilt, though it’s the luminosity of Vanessa Johnson’s Silence that increasingly becomes the focus of light amid these dark ages.
Agnes: Rebecca Elliot.
Ymma: Sarah Groarke.
Eadric: Andrew Grose.
Roger: James Hogg.
Silence: Vanessa Johnson.
Ethelred: Christopher Webster.
Director: Stefan Escreet.
Designer: Elizabeth Wright.
Lighting: Jo Dawson.
Sound: Matt Hall.
Musical Director: Richard Atkinson.
Dialect coach: Charmian Hoare.
Fight director: Kate Waters.