DramaNorth East & YorkshireReview

The Croft – Darlington Hippodrome

Reviewer: Mark Clegg

Writer: Ali Milles

Director: Phillip Franks

Set in the titular cottage in the Highlands of Scotland this play takes place across three different time periods with four of the five performers playing dual roles across the stories.

In present time, Laura (Lucy Doyle) is an excitable but emotionally unstable young woman who brings her new lover Suzanne (Caroline Harker) to the remote croft owned by her father Tom (Simon Roberts) and where her mother spent her final days. Suzanne has recently split from her husband and is finding it hard to be away from her teenage sons, making Laura jealous and putting a strain on their relationship.  We also spend time in the recent past with Laura’s mother Ruth (also Harker) as she tries to cope with her illness with her lover David (Drew Cain). On top of this we also see the events that happened back in 1870 when old crone Enid (Gwen Taylor) takes in fallen woman Eilene (Doyle again) and incurs the wrath of the neighbourhood.

The cast are mostly very good. Taylor whose name and face are the big selling point for this new play, is excellent as the crotchety old hag Enid: it’s just a shame she has so little time on stage and very little to do when she’s there. Lucy Doyle carries most of the play as Laura and although she is undoubtedly a talented performer, the choice to be so over the top enthusiastic in the early scenes is somewhat annoying, and makes the appearance of Doyle as a child Laura later initially unclear and confusing.  Doyle does much better in the straighter role of Eilene.  Harker gives strong performances in both of her roles and Cain displays an easy charm as David. Roberts seems a little uncomfortable for most of his time as Tom but at least delivers the more dramatic sections of his dialogue with conviction.

This is a new piece by first-time writer Ali Milles and despite an intriguing start, it soon becomes clear that the story as a whole has no real reason to be told. Worse still, the 1870 section has no apparent bearing on the other two strands which are at least connected by some mutual characters. This play has three stories and sadly none of them are particularly interesting. The dialogue veers between surprisingly natural and appallingly stilted, and the plot has more holes than a lump of Swiss cheese. This is a muddled, pointless script that sets up mysteries that it then has no interest in building up or paying off, and questions that remain unanswered. Billing this as a “thriller” is a severe overstatement and although there is an air of female empowerment about it all, it’s delivered in such a ham-fisted way as to be counter-productive.

Adrian Linford’s fixed set which includes the interior living room of the croft as well as a small beach area is not particularly impressive but is extremely functional including an almost fully operational kitchen area and a door with a mind of its own that provides the show’s only real chills. Chris Davey’s lighting design is inconsistent with strong projections on the backdrop and long shadows on the walls standing alongside scenes that are grossly under lit. Max Pappenheim’s sound design and music tries to add atmosphere to the piece but despite giving some colour with coastal noises and ambient sounds, it misjudges the use of sudden loud music to denote something spooky happening – particularly when something spooky is never happening. Philip Franks’ direction is fine through most of the play but is really impressive with the deftness in which he moves between time periods – sometimes with overlaps. This and the casting are easily the strongest parts of this otherwise puzzlingly unengaging and pointless play.


Runs until 15th February 2020

The Reviews Hub Score

Unthrilling Thriller

The Reviews Hub - Yorkshire & North East

The Yorkshire & North East team is under the editorship of Mark Clegg. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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