Lie of the Land

Torben Betts
Arcola Theatre Studio
(2009)

Publicity photo

We've all thought it - "I need to get out of the city". For most of us it's a momentary thought; at best we plan a trip to the county for a long weekend but very few of us actually go through with quitting the city for good in favour of a more simple existence. Torben Betts wrote Lie Of The Land after having a nightmare in which he did just that. The result: a sort of surreal nightmare set by the sea.

A husband and wife in their late 20s/early 30s (they have no names), played by real life husband and wife team Emily Bowker and Chris Harper, stand facing the audience, united by their virtually identical grey outfits and yet completely separate. They talk of quitting the rat race and shedding their city costumes in favour of a life of domesticity. They speak in broken sentences as they imagine this new, higher level of existence.

They are at pains to point out the positives of this life they have chosen, almost as if they must keep reminding themselves, lest they forget. Betts' dialogue is both witty and intelligent as he writes in a style that is more akin to a commentary rather than actual conversation between the pair.

Lie Of The Land is rather like looking into a distorted mirror. Listen in on the conversations of any group of people in their late 20s/early 30s in London and you'll hear them complaining that they don't think they are making the most of their lives; that they could be doing so much more. Bowker and Harper are superb together as they portray this couple who are desperate to live, to exist, to just be. Their heightened style of performance throughout makes their frantic desperation all the more disconcerting to watch.

The influence of film director Lars Von Triers cannot be ignored. In much the same way as Nicole Kidman's character in Dogville escapes a life she hates only to find herself in a bigger nightmare; so do these characters. As in Dogville, all set and props are drawn against this black space and each scene is punctuated by a written description of what we are about to see, emphasising this forced environment they find themselves in. They are anything but free of structure: in fact, they have to structure themselves more in an effort to avoid the TV, internet and all other modern devices.

As the years go by we find ourselves in the future and the supposed tranquil life of this couple has descended into chaos. In their desire to make more of life they have simply ended up hiding from life. In some sort of weird dystopian future, the world outside seems to be falling apart and whilst stubbiness keeps them from leaving the countryside, they are in agony as they resist rejoining civilisation.

An acute observation of mankind's inability to be content, the only flaw with watching people who are bored and miserable is that it can be at times boring and miserable to watch. For the most part Betts avoids this but there are moments when it becomes slightly monotonous.

An extreme and scary picture of the lengths people go to in order to find happiness; ultimately showing that it doesn't matter what you do, where you go or who you go there with, you can't escape from yourself.

Reviewer: Rachel Sheridan