THE GREAT BRITISH COUNTRY FETE
by Russell Kane music and lyrics by Michael Bruce.
Bush Theatre To 14 August 2010.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat 2.30pm.
Runs 1hr 10min No interval.
TICKETS: 020 8743 5050.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 2 August.
This must be the Bush paying its dues for involvement with Suffolk’s July Latitude Festival; why else bring this tepidly pointless piece, purportedly set in the county, to London? Writer Russell Kane has a premise; that Tesco want to convert the entire Suffolk village of Upham into a new megamarket.
Farmer Joe turns down a fortune for his land to prevent this, taking the supermarket executive who tries to lure him into a signature round the local fête’s traditional crafts and values. So far the premise is promising as genuine locals reveal bigoted views and rich rural parvenus show blithe ignorance of country life.
But what precisely is being protected here? And why does such a rural area – Ipswich is spoken of as a remote metropolis – justify such a vast store anyway? Of course, all that asking such questions does is miss the cues for several songs. And Michael Bruce’s eclectic score (more than his lyrics, which rhyme “Upham” and “up ‘em” to exhaustion in the first number) is the nearest thing to a reason for being here – with a de rigeur curtain-call encore, the ‘big number’ helps eke the show out to over an hour.
That apart, three highly capable performers are reduced to stereotypes and caricatures, which might still have some point if there were any purpose discernible. But what is Kane about? Is he speaking up for supermarkets across the countryside? Or for declining local communities filled with narrow-mindedness and prejudice? Notably, the only person who speaks up to support Farmer Joe is a boy with special needs and a dead ferret. The ferret, at least, is a cause of something approaching humour.
But generally, any intended humour is predictable, weary, stale, flat and unprofitable. Maybe in Suffolk there was some point – though the work of Eastern Angles, based there, and similar rural-based touring theatres suggest audiences have a far wider, and deeper, dramatic appreciation.
If it’s your sort of party, you may well go for it. But in Bush traditions (they are about to compile a book of their 40 years), it’s not even bargain-basement stuff.
Cast: Katie Brayben, Graham Lappin, Gabriel Vick.
Director: Anthea Williams.
Designer: Fly Davis.
Lighting: Chris Withers.