Writer: Barney Norris
Director: Alice Hamilton
Reviewer: David Jobson
We’re already halfway through the centenary of the First World War, and many writers have been delving into the period looking for a different perspective on this turbulent period. For this latest contribution, playwright Barney Norris has brought a local point of view to the Salisbury Playhouse
Echo’s End transports the audience to the rolling downs of Salisbury Plain in 1915. War presses on in Europe yet life appears to continue as normal in the Wiltshire countryside. Living in a small tight-knit community, John and Anna have grown up together, and their parents have high expectations that they will in time marry. However, after suffering a rejection, John decides to enlist in the army, leaving Anna alone and unhappy.
From then on Echo’s End plays out rather predictably. As tragic and poignant as the First World War is, there are familiar plot points to many wartime dramas and Echo’s End contains several. The moment Oliver Hembrough comes on as New Zealand soldier, Jack Howard, you know he will become Anna’s lover.
What elevates this Echo’s End is Barney Norris’ viewpoint on the changes war brings to Salisbury Plain and the people who remain. His knowledge brings to life images of the landscape being altered by the army camp and the perspectives of the elders are at times fascinating.
Sadie Shimmin as John’s mother Margaret poignantly portrays her worries for the future that he and the soldiers are facing. David Beames is overtly-protective as Anna’s father as her attention turns to the New Zealand soldier. Robin Soans meanwhile is jovial and dispenses good advice as the elderly agricultural worker, Jasper.
There are some interesting titbits told here and there, including the months of heavy rain that affected food production all over England during this period. Unfortunately, that’s as interesting as the play gets. There’s a lot of telling rather than showing and you never drawn into the feeling that the elders are becoming obsolete remnants while the world moves on at a rapid pace.
As John and Anna, Tom Byrne and Katie Moore expressively portray the conflicted feelings they have for each other. They are both burdened by the expectations of their small community and family while as youngsters recognising that there is a wider world out there. Apart from this, their development feels arbitrary rather than natural. You only get snapshots of the lives of these characters as the play jumps a couple of months per scene. At times you’re playing catch-up as some important plot points happen offstage
Emotional attachment is therefore lacking, which is hampered further by the set and static direction by Alice Hamilton, here Norris’ script is seemingly lost on the expensive set of the Wiltshire Down.
Echo’s End has its moments with some strong performances from the cast but doesn’t offer up anything different from other drama’s that cover this era.
Runs until 15 April 2017 | Image: Helen Murray