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Pastoral – HighTide Festival, Halesworth

Writer: Thomas Eccleshare

Director: Steve Marmion

Reviewer: Glen Pearce

[rating:4.5]

 

"Pastoral"“England’s green and pleasant land”, an image that conjures up images of idyllic rural settings and peaceful countryside pursuits. For Thomas Eccleshare’s Pastoral, winner of the 2011 Verity Bargate Award, however, the idyll is something much darker and threatening.

In the city, green shoots breaking through shop fronts hint that something may be amiss, cracks begin to show in buildings and, in an inner city high-rise, plants are breaking through the floorboards. Despite her neighbours having been evacuated, Moll is steadfastly hanging on to the last minute, delaying her packing and wryly observing the ‘fat’ people on the street below.

The delay proves costly as, by the time Mol is ready to depart, it is clear that Mother Nature has reclaimed the streets and she and her friends are trapped in her disintegrating flat.

Initial fears that this may be a re-tread of The Day of The Triffids proves unfounded as Eccleshare takes us on a gripping journey into an ever-darkening world.

As Moll’s world falls apart around her, quite literally in Michael Vale’s impressive, mobileset, it’s debatable who are the biggest wolves, those now prowling the streets or those inside the flat.

Eccleshare’s spot-on script is packed full of beautifully observed characters and reflection on society that grabs audience attention from the outset. Moll’s observations proving her fantasy career as a stand-up comic is an entertainment opportunity the world sadly missed out on are particularly poignant.

As Mother Nature takes control, the mismatched band of survivors is forced to make a series of increasingly desperate choices as they fight for their continued existence.

Anna Calder-Marshall’s Moll is the centre piece of the production; on stage throughout it’s a performance that mixes humour with pathos, her piercing description of hen party revelry a comic, yet chillingly accurate description of a sight repeated up and down the country on any given weekend.

Disney has come in for criticism recently for its portrayal of gender stereotyped Princesses but, as humanity lurches on the edge of survival, Carrie Rock’s almost show-stealing appearance of a princess is unlike anything Uncle Walt ever envisaged.

There’s also fine work from Nigel Betts and Morag Siller (Mr and Mrs Plumb), Richard Riddell and Hugh Skinner as resistance fighters Hardy and Manz and an unlikely potential saviour in an Ocado delivery man – Bill Fellows. If Polly Frame’s cross gendered portrayal of 11-year-old Arthur is slightly less convincing it’s a minor quibble in an otherwise on-form production.

Eccleshare’s script never falls into the trap of placing any ecological blame for Mother Nature’s reclamation of the land, the green invasion is purely a catalyst for the human story at the heart of the piece.

Like the roots of the plants that are taking over the city, Pastoral also weaves its way through the mind, its hybrid of comedy and pathos flowering into something touching and deceptively moving.

Runs until 12th May before touring

Photo: Simon Kane

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