Loft Theatre, Leamington, until May 12
Reviewer: Peter McGarry
Paranoia meets parable in this extraordinary play.
The paranoia arises from frantic efforts by a futuristic government to stamp out food contamination across English farmlands. The parable is the devastating effects on society when authoritarian rule of this kind promotes mass hysteria.
Nudging on themes already explored by writers George Orwell and Arthur Miller and even the memorable film Witchfinder General, this is no easy challenge for any theatre company to undertake so it’s hats off to the Loft and director Tom O’Connor for stepping into the breech.
On a harsh, shadowy set, the performers have to eke out the fears and repressions of a central farming couple who must face up to their failing crops endeavour, and a rigidly-trained young inquisitor whose mission is palpably to destroy them.
They are the scapegoats, as much the victims of their time as the symbolic foxes, promoted by writer Dawn King in this near-future world as the countryside’s deadly enemy for poisoning food supplies.
Craig Shelton brings the farmer to gruff, honest life, a man ready to face his accusers and argue them down. Reminiscent indeed of Miller’s John Proctor in The Crucible. Elizabeth Morris is the work-worn wife who is more aware of the imminent danger and anxious to defuse the threat. Both are finely developed portrayals achieving a true sense of chemistry.
Equally effective is Charlotte Froud as the neighbour whose friendship somewhat inevitably turns to betrayal under the pressures wrought by the atmosphere of widespread terror across the land.
Still deeper aspects should come to light through the character of the 19-year-old government inspector. His stern and robotic religious upbringing has instilled in him latent sexual desires which are soon to cause a wild explosion
of libido. Unfortunately, Ed Statham does not reach the level of complexity needed here.
This in part is due to the play itself. The issues it raises are striking, but hardly original in concept and carry no real depth.
It remains, though, a notable theatrical effort.