When signing up to watch a play as part of any type of festival, particularly one where you are led into the bowels of an institutional, albeit slightly infamous drama school, you must expect the unexpected. And, in spite of being performed by just three cast members, all in their twilight years, this seemingly mild play was completely engrossing.
In spite of the later age of the characters I think this story is relevant to every peer group, as the relationship politics between them is ever-youthful. In fact, if anything the age enhances the humour of their well-researched and very modern references.
Ever prevalent is that, although the characters are extremely wary of the imminent death, these references contain a dark and rather dangerous humour of their own.
Stuffed with blackmail, death, love, regrets, sexual politics and sibling rivalry, it is a remarkable feat that Briffa, through his eloquent and really quite majestic script, made me note that it was a “simple” play. Because it was. How he came up with such an intricate story and conveyed it in a relatively short period of time I will never know.
Aaron J Dootson’s very basic stylistic choices in the design made it all the more effective. Though many other locations are often mentioned and the characters are always just returning from or going elsewhere, all action takes place in the back garden belonging to Barbara’s mother Moira. A pun in the set itself is indicative of the sheer wit that was involved in this production; the unpretentious B&Q garden table and chairs accompanied by a short ribbon of wooden fencing and I was convinced that I had definitely spent that evening in the Devon countryside.
What I found most fascinating (without wanting to reveal any spoilers) was that the “villain” was interchangeable. Each character seemed almost decadent in their number of layers, shrouded in mystery and bursting with secrets, that were slowly and deliciously revealed. The captivated audience responded with gasps of shock and trickles of laughter almost continuously. The only thing I could possibly make a comparison to would be a funnier, juicier and more sordid Murder She Wrote, particularly David Forest’s effervescently sharp Kenneth, his hilarious quips sharper than any knife.
It must also be noted that it is no great tragedy that choosing an older cast generates demand for the types of actors that perhaps aren’t usually used, especially with a female lead. The characters are also multi-dimensional in themselves as well as on their journeys, making them undoubtedly a lot more fun to play.
This unexpected story encompassing innumerable stories within it is so beautifully written that I feel as though the script would even be equally as effective on the radio. Everybody must go and see this thoroughly entertaining production. Now.
Country Life is playing at the GBS Theatre until 20th August. For more information and tickets, see the Player-Playwrights website here.