An Englishman's Home
Studio Salford, Salford
An intimate theatre venue, comprising no more than a few dozen seats, is the perfect place for a one-man show. And, as last night's performance of An Englishman's Home aptly demonstrated, the ideal space to unsettle an audience.
During Richard Vergette's 70-minute portrayal of Roger Beaumont, an upper class Englishman home from prison after serving time for manslaughter, Vergette bandied around his 12-bore shotgun with alarming nonchalance. Like a child who clings to their security blanket, Vergette grasped the weapon tightly, one moment clutching it to his chest, the next caressing the barrel before laying it delicately on the ground. In the compact auditorium of Salford's King's Arms, the home of Studio Salford, the effect was chillingly disconcerting.
Based loosely on the infamous case of Tony Martin, a farmer who in 1999 killed one burglar and wounded another, An Englishman's Home is a tautly-written and skillfully-acted play. As both author and protagonist, Vergette has succeeded in giving the audience much food for thought while tugging at the moral uncertainties surrounding class, materialism and property.
From the moment he shuffles onto stage wearing a crumpled shirt and baggy trousers, Vergette effortlessly conjures a scene of decay, disappointment and bubbling resentment. "I go to bed when I'm tired, I get up when I'm tired," sighs Vergette, a 51-year-old eccentric who lives alone in a crumbling mansion. We learn at the outset that he has murdered a man. By the end of the monologue, we discover whether or not he feels regret for his actions. In between, Vergette muses on the vicissitudes of social hierarchies, homosexuality and the changing loyalties of the British press.
As far as the narrative is concerned, there are numerous similarities with the much-talked about experience of Martin, whose decision to defend his home with a gun polarized public opinion. Like Martin, Vergette's Beaumont has his sentence commuted to manslaughter and, like Martin, Beaumont is viewed as both hero and vermin by society The audience is asked to ponder this: is an Englishman's home his castle? And, if so, to what lengths should homeowners be allowed to go in order to protect their sense of peace and security?
But Martin and Beaumont's stories diverge at crucial points and, without wanting to give too much away, Beaumont's fate hinges on sexuality; both his own perception of desire and society's assessment.
Most likely each audience member went home dwelling on a different aspect of the play. In this Vergette has perhaps achieved most with his script: he touches expertly on a wide range of subjects yet manages to provoke debate about each one. The fact that the play is a revival of an enthusiastically-received premiere at the 24:7 festival in Manchester four years ago is testament to its enduring appeal.
To 19th March 2011