Home / Drama / Smallholding – HighTide Festival, Halesworth

Smallholding – HighTide Festival, Halesworth

Writer: Chris Dunkley

Director: Patrick Sandford

Reviewer: Glen Pearce


SmallholdingThe dream of escaping city life, returning to the countryside and becoming self-sufficient is something many aspire to in the middle of their hectic lifestyle. For Jen and Andy though their move from London to a rundown farm in Northamptonshire is about as far removed from that other tale of self-sufficiency, TV classic The Good Life. While Tom and Barbara may have had to battle the snobbish neighbour Margo, our protagonists have far darker demons to overcome.

It looks a promising start for the young couple, the plot and house may be rundown and their farming skills basic to say the least but there’s an enthusiasm that promises hope of a new life. Just like the failing crops however their optimism seems based on false shoots of hope. There’s more than an eco-desire to return to the countryside at play here, Andy is 80 days into rehab for drug addiction and the country living seems his best hope of remaining clean. While initially Jen may seem the more stable and responsible half of the duo, she two has her demons to overcome.

Dunkley’s script slowly unravels more background to the pair and as they descend into their previous co-dependency on drugs and each other the situation becomes ever more bleak. As we learn more about their background the sense of loss becomes increasingly palpable, the price exacted taking a growing toll on the pair.

Patrick Sandford’s production mixes the grim reality with a sense of the surreal complete with a visit from Santa, a plaster duck and the fixation on one of Sir Steve Redgrave’s Olympic medal winning oars. How much of this is real or a figment of the increasingly addled brains of our unlikely farmers is left to the audience to decide.

There’s real chemistry between Matti Houghton and Chris New as the sparring pair, just as much said in the physical unspoken body language as in the dialogue itself. Houghton takes Jen on a destructive journey from the rock of the relationship to a broken, beaten and lost soul. New avoids the temptation to play Andy as a grotesque, instead choosing to play a deeply affecting subtle reading of a troubled mind, unable to escape the hooks that keep him from every taking the easy road.

There are fleeting moments of dark humour but this is somewhat uncomfortable, almost train wreck, viewing of a couple in a vicious spiral of decline. Yet despite the darkness there remains a glimmer of hope that the duo can escape this destructive relationship.

Despite the power of the writing and performances it’s not an entirely flawless production with the final scene, while poignant seeming somewhat incongruous with the remainder of the piece. While the unresolved nature of the ending makes the audience come to their own conclusion it seems somewhat unsatisfactory.

Margo would certainly not approve but while this is far from The Good Life (in more ways than one) this look at an unlikely pair of smallholders gives plenty of food for thought.

Runs until 12 May

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