In a Land Much Like Ours
Breathe Out Theatre / Project Korova
Studio Salford at The King's Arms
After recent accolades with Kafkaesque being selected for the Library Theatre's Re:Play Festival and Einstein's Daughter for the King's Cross Award for New Writing, local writer Rob Johnston has turned his attention to the stories people tell one another and themselves for In a Land Much Like Ours.
Jane and David try to deal with the tragic death of their young daughter Evie (not really a spoiler as it happens very near to the beginning) in a calm, middle-class way without any outward displays of grief or emotion. Internally, they each deal with their feelings in a different way, which the other cannot understand.
Schoolteacher Jane "talks" to the person responsible for her daughter's death, having full conversations with him in her head. Engineering lecturer David likes to figure things out, pull them apart to see how they work—it's a "man thing" apparently, like having to win an argument—and so he sets on a quest to find out when, how and why a human being like any other became a killer, "what changed him?". Which behaviour is an indication of an obsession that will have a profoundly negative effect on the person's life?
Between scenes, Richard relates to us a modified version of Grimms' Jack the Giant Killer which gradually comes to parallel the events in the scenes, gradually making clear who Richard is.
There are some very clever ideas and devices at play in the writing. There is the fairy tale parallel with the main story, apparently insignificant events like David's obsession with getting Evie's mobile 'phone to work foreshadowing his later obsession, the swapping of status between the two characters. There is also some intelligent and witty dialogue.
However there is something about it that doesn't feel complete, that doesn't quite gel together. While the literary devices bring depth to the concept, the characters appear a little thin and "off the shelf". There is a bit too much of the fairy tale, even though it has a great lyricism to the re-writing, considering it is a distant metaphor and not directly related to the plot. While there is some great writing in the scenes which only occasionally run out of steam, it feels like we're dipping into little bits of the lives of the two characters without really getting to know them.
There are good performances all round, as Adam Urey enjoys getting his tongue around the words and rhythms of his stories as Richard, a nicely subtle and witty portrayal of David from Matt Lanigan and another strong character of Jane as portrayed by Laura Lindsey.
This is a play with some very interesting ideas and clever little touches and watching it seems like an hour well-spent, but it does feel like an early version of something that could one day be very much stronger and more compelling.
Or perhaps my desire for a stronger plot to show what makes these characters tick proves the thesis behind it. It's a man thing.
Reviewer: David Chadderton