UUrban life protects us from nature. Yet nature has a way of slipping through the cracks. When Olivia de Mara Allen, a self-explanatory London professional, loses a child, she cannot escape reality in the flesh. Experience is everything and no middle class luxury can protect it.
In this case, in Lorna French’s double for Pentabus and Theater by the Lake, she has family ties with a farm in Shropshire where she takes refuge. Here she begins to make sense of her grief in a place where the cycle of life, death and, most importantly, rebirth is more apparent. We see his loss in the context of a fox attacking a nest or breeding pheasants by a gamekeeper for blood sport. Bad things happen.
And bad things have a ripple effect. Concerned gamekeeper Matty de Stuart Laing let the tensions of his job spill over into his private life. Taking the actions of animal rights activists personally, he turned his anger on his son, less interested in taking over the family business than in perfecting the art of baking.
Matty’s gruff homophobia suggests he’s the only man who’s never seen Billy Elliot, his old-fashioned intolerance at odds with his sensibilities elsewhere. But, like Olivia, whose trauma took her away from her husband, he left an emotion he can barely articulate disrupt his domestic relationships. The movement of the piece is not only from death to renewal, but also from division to reconciliation.
Lots of material, then, for a 70-minute piece, especially when paired with a late-developing theme about Oliva’s experience as a black woman in a predominantly white rural community.
But in the heavy production of Elle While, the nighttime conversation between Olivia and Matty rarely convinces. She is inexplicably belligerent towards him. He is strangely tolerant of her. At different times, each turns a shotgun on the other, but neither seems to care. Are they still held back by the moonlight? And why doesn’t this mismatched pair just go away overnight?
The emergence of a curlew puppet from Charlie Cridlan’s cover-strewn set is charming, but it would have more emotional weight if we had fewer questions.