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Eventide, Arcola Theatre | reviews, news & interviews

Eventide, Arcola Theatre

Eventide, Arcola Theatre

Evocation of rudderless rural lives is beautifully staged

Lament for the lonely: Ellie Piercy and James Doherty in 'Eventide'Mark Douet

His style is probably too subtle to be described as causing anything as noisily obtrusive as a splash, but Barney Norris’s debut play Visitors certainly created significant ripples last year. This follow-up drama is also, on the surface at least, low-key: a gentle, melancholy rumination on love and loss, in which the more drastic events happen offstage and time ticks by, ungraspable, inexorable.

Set in a Hampshire village, it’s in part an elegy for a rural way of life, fading away in the face of consumerist modernity; it’s also a lament for the lonely, and a hymn to the redemptive power of human warmth and connection. Realist, yet poetic – occasionally slightly self-consciously so – it has something of the rueful contemplativeness of David Storey, and its sense of opportunities slipping through the fingers, of happiness that remains elusive as the long, twilight shadow of mortality creeps ever closer, faintly echoes Beckett, in particular Krapp’s Last Tape. For all its soulfulness, the play strikes me as a little undernourished. But Alice Hamilton’s touring production for Up in Arms, the Arcola and North Wall is pitch perfect, with delicately inflected performances from its cast of three.

The trio of characters, flotsam in a countryside backwater, drift together in the garden of a local pub. The landlord, John (James Doherty), has taken to slugging rather too heavily from his own stock of booze, increasingly since his wife left him – and the divorce settlement means that he’s being forced to sell up to a brewery chain. Mark (Hasan Dixon) struggles to make enough to pay his rent, and takes whatever manual work he can get.

He’s also quietly agonised by the recent death in a car crash of an old school friend, a girl he’d long adored but never managed to engage in a romantic relationship. They’re joined by Liz (Ellie Piercy), a widow who regularly makes the long drive to play the organ at the nearby church, even though she admits that her musical talents are limited and the church’s instrument is badly dilapidated.

In the ebb and flow of their conversation, there are meditations on the decline of the farming industry, the rise of rural unemployment and soaring property prices, while the two traditional community hubs of pub and church no longer provide an enduring sense of cohesion. In John’s wry smart-arsery and battery of well-rehearsed jokes there’s desolation, while anger and frustration simmer beneath Mark’s mooning about and Liz’s bright smile betrays an eagerness verging on the desperate. The Biblical quotations, the fragment of WH Davies’ famous poem "Leisure", and the scraps of socio-economic history that litter the dialogue sometimes seem contrived. But for the most part Norris’s evocation of these rudderless lives feels authentic and compassionate. And you could hardly wish for a more beautifully modulated staging than Hamilton’s, which is suffused with the fading sunshine and faint chill of crepuscular regret.

  • Eventide at the Arcola Theatre until 17 October, then touring until 14 November
There are meditations on the decline of the farming industry, the rise of rural unemployment and soaring property prices

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Average: 3 (1 vote)

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