Country Life

Peter Briffa
Player Playwrights
GBS Theatre, RADA

Country Life publicity photo

Friends Reunited and Facebook searches have seen many silver surfers searching for old acquaintances through the internet and that's what wartime evacuee Jim has done in Country Life, discovering a girl he used to know still living in the Devon countryside where he was packed off more than sixty years ago. She is bedridden and terminally ill and unable to speak but he goes to visit and over her last three months becomes close. Now she is dead and after attending her cremation he is chatting to Barbara, another childhood friend, about what has happened to others with whom they were at the village school. Dead, most of them seem. But no, here's one still alive - except she's in a coma.

Despite the cooing wood pigeons and the fading light this is a sharply acid comedy that senior citizens themselves will find full of accurate observation as it puts together a former convict, a retired police chief and a widow with expectations and then stirs in suspicious of murder - and before it is finished there are three deaths to account for!

The plot may seem entirely predictable, but then it becomes increasingly problematic, with conjectures and revelations that get ever more surprising. The opening needs more of a lift to get it going but it provides new twisting right up to the final curtain.

Marji Campi makes Barbara delightfully likeable. Her children have their own lives elsewhere and now she has to look after her own aged mother but a growing friendship with Jim is providing some fun in her life. There is hardly any suggestion that we should not take this at face value. Chris Bearne's Jim is a bit of a smoothie but is he as calculating and malicious as ex-copper Kenneth claims? And Kenneth? A pedestrianly pedantic bit of a bigot but devoted to Barbara and, as David Forest plays him, his old authority now turned somewhat querulous.

It is a good trio who play the comedy well, never trying to be funny. They have a good grip on their characters, if not always on a few of their lines as far as the men were concerned under first night pressure. It is not a deep piece, though very clear in its view of what old age might offer and the way these characters deal with it. Paul Blinkhorn's direction keeps things restrained and naturalistic, avoiding any temptation to play this as farce, though the script certainly offers that possibility.

"Country Life" plays at the RADA GBS Theatre until 20th August 2011 as part of the Camden Fringe Festival

Reviewer: Howard Loxton

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