Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Farmed Out

Mark Hewitt
1157 Performance Group
Farnham Maltings
(2006)

After the 50 minutes of interminable whingeing that constitutes this dire production, one can only assume that its billing as a 'charming, fresh and honest tribute to the English countryside today', was written with irony. Beside a metal water trough in a muddy farmyard, a disillusioned dairy farmer bemoans the low profits and long hours of his working life to a long-dead first wife on the occasion of her birthday, which he is celebrating with a solitary spliff and bottle of wine. In unvarying diatribe, he trudges tediously over the same little patch of ground so often, we start to sink into the mire.

What's so disappointing is that there's a real story to be told here of the lives of Britain's dairy farmers, a story which anyone who's ever tuned in to Farming Today will have been moved by. But we're never allowed to get any sense of the day-to-day lived experience of the farmer, of the specific satisfactions as well as the evident difficulties and despair of the current situation, nor of the ways in which his animals are as much victims of the present farming situation as is the farmer himself.

The words are acted as well as they might be on a realistically muddy set, but the projected images and voices used to give some of the 'backstory' don't work to enhance our sympathy with the man or his situation, particularly when the one section that might have (when he's talking to his own reflected face in the trough) has the words out of sync with the image.

An 'honest' account of contemporary farming life, despite the evident sufferings of that overlooked community, would have moments of satisfaction and achievement as well as of despair, and this self-indulgent, emotionally one-dimensional litany doesn't begin to do it justice.

Reviewer: Jill Sharp