Buried Child

Sam Shepard
Curve, Leicester
(2011)

Buried Child production photo

In 1979 Buried Child was the first off-off-Broadway play to win a Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Americans recognised its themes of the breakdown of traditional family values and economic difficulties; those themes are just as identifiable today.

Sam Shepard has a habit of analysing how families have become disillusioned with the American Dream and it's evident throughout this play.

Every character has his or her individual reasons to ask what happened to that dream; for some of the family members the dream's turned into a nightmare.

Curve's artistic director Paul Kerryson has taken Shepard's script and turned it into stunning reality. Before the curtain rises you can see part of a huge cornfield which dominates the stage. Although the crops rise to allow you to see the house's interior, the corn is still visible and casts an ominous tinge over this dysfunctional family and their home.

Designer Paul Wills shows us a house that's dominated by brown panelling, the minimal items of furniture amplifying the property's starkness and rundown feel. This is a family down on its luck - and perhaps losing the will to put up any resistance to its circumstances.

The first ten minutes of Buried Child consists of dialogue between Dodge and his wife Halie who's unseen, addressing him from upstairs.

Matthew Kelly gives an outstanding performance as Dodge, the ageing, alcoholic father who's lost the admiration of his family and is bullied mercilessly by them. Kelly, unkempt, continually smoking and protective of his holey blanket, encapsulates the character who shows disdain for his wife because she's having an affair with a priest, anger at anyone who won't supply him with whisky and resentment towards those who won't respect him.

The play becomes even more complex when Dodge's grandson Vince and his girlfriend Shelly make an unannounced visit. There are more revelations which merely magnify the family's tangled web of deceit. Vince hasn't seen his relatives for six years and there are doubts that he's who he says he is before Shelly starts to unravel some of their secrets.

Catrin Stewart gives a measured performance as Shelly, changing from a frightened bystander into an empathetic participant before accepting that she can't understand why these people acted in such a disreputable way.

Matthew Rixon gains sympathy as Tilden, the well-built but fragile son who's emotionally inept and a disappointment to his parents even though they're responsible for his troubled upbringing.

Equally compelling is Michael Beckley as Bradley, the other son with a chip on his shoulder who's quick to become aggressive and quarrelsome ever since he lost his leg in a chainsaw accident.

Lloyd Thomas (Vince), Jane Lowe (Halie) and Gary Lilburn (Father Dewis) complete the cast, all showing perfect casting for their roles.

Buried Child is one of those plays which leaves several questions unanswered and you'll be debating its intricacies long after you've left the theatre. Kerryson, his cast and crew have come up with a superb production which deserves its own accolades.

"Buried Child" runs until 3rd December

Reviewer: Steve Orme