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The Rimers of Eldritch

Lanford Wilson
Court Theatre Training Company
The Courtyard, Hoxton
(2011)

TheRimersOfEldritch

Lanford Wilson’s play, originally staged by La MaMa in 1965, is a caustic picture of small-town life in a decaying settlement in the Bible Belt of Missouri. Once a mining centre with the coal all now worked out, the mining folk moved on, the population is decimated and youngsters see their future elsewhere. It’s a place where everyone knows everyone else’s business—and talks about it.

It starts with a court scene, but after just one line from the judge switches to a couple of gossips sitting on their porch on about a café keeper whose husband left her and has now taken on a boy. It then shifts backwards and forwards through time around the town, building up a picture of the inhabitants and gradually providing information about who is actually on trial and for what, though it holds back vital information until the very end. It is a case of a killing, but they have got the facts all wrong.

These clap-happy condemnatory Christians are not a likeable lot. It is the outcasts who seem more human and the very young who gain our sympathy as they pair off. It is the glimpses we get of so many little lives that give the play its interest rather than the telling of the time-fractured plot.

Despite the picture it draws of American life, it is a play that has been frequently revived in the USA, especially by school and university drama groups. One can easily see why: it has roles for 17 actors, most of them pretty equal with at least one good scene of their own. That is probably one of the reasons why it has been chosen for this production with the students of the Court Theatre Training Company but it is not an easy piece to play and they handle it with credit.

Director Jeremy Young and designer Stephanie Hakin have extended the playing area forward from the Courtyard Studio’s platform stage with a series of small rostra, which localises particular homesteads and places while the ongoing trial takes place across the whole space. It also avoids the claustrophobic feeling that the low ceiling of this stage usually creates and helps the cast project their performances without undue effort. Thin branches are woven among the lighting rig, presumably as a reminder that we are in the countryside, and in the second half, when some scenes are placed in woodland, those actors not in a scene become a stationary human woodland, their arms more branches, one even huddled on the ground to provide a tree stump or tussock for actors to sit on. It is a stylisation that follows from the mimed props and business of the first half which is not strictly naturalistic: one lady endlessly winds wool into a ball, another more realistically sews, but I wonder if the actress who puts down her mimed cup and saucer still holding on to both actually does that in real life as it looked quite awkward.

The dialogue flows from one location to another as though all are involved in the same conversation and the company times this well. Several are asked to play characters much older than themselves without recourse to make-up and if not entirely convincing (especially when one daughter looks older than her mother) make an excellent stab at it.

There is a well-matched pairing in Louise Gilbert’s café owner and Josh Davies as her short-term help come lover, and Matthew Prentice suggests some of the complexity of the maligned old derelict who takes out their garbage. There is a touching freshness in the partnership of Aimee Robertson’s crippled girl and Jamie Rogers as her boyfriend while Niall Rooney confidently sweeps everything before him as the domineering judge and preacher. Even without greying her hair, Joanna McCue does an excellent job with her eccentric, mind-going old lady, particularly effective enumerating her deceased menagerie of pets.

All in all a good piece of teamwork. It would be interesting to see how some of these performers would sustain a major role.

“The Rimers of Eldritch” runs at the Courtyard theatre until 4th December 2011

Reviewer: Howard Loxton