The Winterling

Jez Butterworth
Theatre by the Lake
Theatre by the Lake

Liam Smith (West) and Alan Suri (Wally) Credit: Keith Pattison
Jennifer English (Lue) and James Duke (Draycott) Credit: Keith Pattison
Liam Smith (West) and Henry Devas (Patsy) Credit: Keith Pattison

Jez Pike, who directed last summer season's superb production of The Shape of Things at Theatre by the Lake, returns to revive this play from another Jez, Butterworth, from his pre-Jerusalem days.

Set in a house in the middle of nowhere on Dartmoor, smartly-dressed West is obviously preparing for visitors when talkative tramp Draycott arrives, asking for permission to stay in West's porch. It isn't convenient that day.

The guests are Wally and his younger companion Patsy, who arrive covered in mud after abandoning the car and walking the last part of the way. Patsy is vocal about his distress, but Wally is much more cautious in front of West. There is clearly quite a history between the two men, and it would appear that one of them will want the other to do something unsavoury before they part company.

This is an old-fashioned three-act play with a middle act that flashes back to when West arrived at the house and found Draycott living there with young girl Lue, who has ambitions to travel the world if she can get someone to sign her passport application. Act three jumps back to the morning after act one.

The style is Pinter on speed—in fact Pinter was personally influential on Butterworth's writing in general and this play specifically—with a clear link to that of his earlier work such as Mojo. It has all of the banalities of speech and broken dialogue of Pinter plus the macho menace. There is no physical violence at any point in the play, but status and menace are made very clear entirely through dialogue.

There are strong performances all round from Liam Smith as a very commanding and proud West, Alan Suri as Wally, Henry Devas as Patsy, James Duke as Draycott and Jennifer English as a sulky Lue. Anna Pilcher Dunn's set looks absolutely authentic as an abandoned cottage on Dartmoor.

Pike's production just flies along with stylised speech delivery that is just slightly too fast for realism, which is very effective and often very funny. It's a style that keeps the audience on the edge of their seats, while still having nice variations in pace and some quite touching moments.

While it is clearly not the sort of play for the main house summer season, this is another studio hit for Theatre by the Lake.

Reviewer: David Chadderton