Country Music

Simon Stephens
Royal Court Theatre Upstairs
(2004)

Acene from Country Music

Simon Stephens could soon be breaking world records. Country Music is the third of his plays to have a London premiere in the last six months. It is the sorry tale of Jamie Carris, an illiterate loser, and views him at three different stages of his life.

While Jamie borders on the psychopathic, there is something endearing about this hapless man who becomes a murderer, following his own moral code. When faced with assaults on members of his family, he sees only one way to act.

Lee Ross is absolutely believable as Jamie, the type of part in which this actor excels. He starts and ends as a backward 19-year-old fresh out of a home. He loves joyriding and Sally Hawkins' Lynsey, who even at fifteen wraps him around her little finger. Jamie's dreams sum him up. A trip to Southend is the peak of his ambitions.

Roll on ten years and he is visited in prison by his young half-brother Matty (Calum Callaghan), a man for whom he has committed the murder of a molester. A further ten and he has travelled to Sunderland to meet Emma, his daughter by Lynsey, for the first time.

She is a shy, nervous 17-year-old, played by Laura Elphinstone. Their attempts to connect fail as, almost like putative lovers, each is scared of the other. They have very different reasons for meeting. He wants her to fulfil his vicarious dreams, while his humourless daughter is curious to meet the murderer who is her biological father.

The play eventually returns to a point just before its start, when we see the ever-optimistic Jamie in a moment of true happiness with Lynsey.

This 70-minute portrait of an inadequate man trying to get through life is illuminated by a memorable performance from Lee Ross, who is well supported by three talented young actors. It is touching and manages to get under the skin of a person who wants to do right but lacks the intellectual armoury to get through modern life.

This review originally appeared on Theatreworld in a slightly different version

Reviewer: Philip Fisher