As a touring rural theatre company, Pentabus must have played in a number of different and unique places in their time. However, in bringing Red Sky At Night to the Faraway Forest at Latitude Festival, even they must admire the beauty of the setting. The sun streams through the trees to light the alcove that the six actors appear in, providing a stage that both illuminates and helps the well-written play, but also limits what the show could achieve.

Red Sky At Night is made up of six intertwining monologues from different characters, all describing their account of a barn burning down in their rural town. The monologues soon start to include personal details, and eventually develop into deeper character studies. By the end of the piece, the performance morphs into a type of whodunit, with each character revealing motivations as to why it could have been them who burnt the barn down.

Full credit must go to the team of young writers behind this show. Each monologue was penned by a different writer from Pentabus, but the sense of continuity and structure on display here makes them seem experienced beyond their years. These are fully fleshed out, complicated characters, who make you sympathise with them in one breath, then change your mind the next. Ranging from the town drunk, to the young farmer’s wife, to the wife of a disabled ex-policeman, each character has a personal arc, all of which are interesting to follow.

The cast do a fine job with the material as well. Michael Quartey as Andrew stands out in a cast of solid performances, with his character perhaps the most conflicted of them all, as he struggles with his move to the countryside after a life in the busy city.

The Faraway Forest venue both helps and hinders the performance. In many ways, it makes thematic sense to have this play about fire and a rural town in a forest setting. But practically, some of the limitations of the venue restrict the performance. While being outside in a forest alcove looks effective, it was often extremely hard to hear what the actors were saying due to the wind, people passing by, and the general noise a festival with over 30,000 people in attendance makes. Add to that a lack of any real seating aside from a few logs and turned over trees, and it means that people are far more likely to stop by to watch the show for a few minutes than stay and invest their time. That being said, it is a testament to the quality of writing and performance that a decent sized crowd had emerged by the end.

Of course, the limitations of the venue are not the fault of Pentabus. Red Sky At Night remains a truly effective and interesting piece at heart. Excellent work from the young writers and the cast makes it yet another successful show from this theatre company that keeps growing in stature.

Red Sky At Night played at Latitude Festival on 17 July. Pentabus Theatre Company is a touring rural company that performs across the country. For more information, see the Pentabus Rural Theatre Company website. Photo by Pentabus.