Village Idiot

Samson Hawkins
Theatre Royal Stratford East, Nottingham Playhouse and Ramps on the Moon
Theatre Royal Stratford East

Eileen Nicholas as Barbara, Phiip Labey as Peter, Maximilian Fairley a Harry, Mark Benton as Kevin and Faye Wiggan as Debbie Credit: Marc Brenner
Faye Wiggan as Debbie and Maximilian Fairley as Harry Credit: Marc Brenner
Eileen Nicholas as Barbara Credit: Marc Brenner
Joseph Langdon as Liam and Mark Benton as Kevin Credit: Marc Brenner
Joseph Langdon as Liam Credit: Marc Brenner
Maximilian Fairley as Harry Credit: Marc Brenner
Eileen Nicholas as Barbara, Maximilian Fairley as Harry, Philip Labey as Peter, Joseph Langdon as Liam, Faye Wiggn as Debbie and Mark Benton as Kevin Credit: Marc Brenner
Philip Labey as Peter, Mark Benton as Kevin, Faye Wiggan as Debbie, Maximilian Firley as Harry and Joseph Langdon as Liam Credit: Marc Brenner

Over the past seven years, the companies that make up the Ramps on the Moon consortium have created annual productions that (like the work of specialist Graeae company) has sought to increase diversity both on stage and in the audience to embrace those who are deaf, blind or differently abled making signing and audio description an integral part of the show.

This is their final production, a play originally commissioned by Nottingham Playhouse and created by Theatre Royal Stratford East. It doesn’t incorporate signing or description, though there will be performances when they are provided and there are surtitles, but concentrates on including those, on stage or watching, who, like writer Samson Hawkins, are neurodivergent.

It is set in the Northamptonshire village of Syresham, which lies directly on the route of HS2—in fact, the line will go right through the middle of Barbara Honeybone’s cottage. There’s a compulsory purchase order in place, but Barbara is having none of it. She’s staying put, despite all HS2’s efforts, which are complicated by the fact that the man put in charge of clearing the village is newly qualified engineer Peter, who is her grandson.

One of the people who have succumbed and taken HS2’s money is local butcher Kevin. He’s planning a new, more luxurious life in Thailand for himself and his daughter Debbie but she doesn’t want to go. She wants to stay with her boyfriend Harry, who is Peter’s brother and still living with granny, though they plan a new life in Milton Keynes.

Debby’s brother Liam is into nature and wildlife and rather reluctantly working for HS2 in a job Peter got him. He’s against the destruction brought by the railway but secretly passionate about Peter, for whom he’s held a torch since they were schoolboys.

Lily Arnold’s setting places domestic scene furniture in front of a forest of real looking tall trees, and that helps the swift transitions of the zany script and Nadia Fall’s joyful direction.

There is a political edge to the country life against townie money men conflict. Grandma Honeybone may have an unreformed racist and sexist vocabulary but Eileen Nicholas makes her wonderfully acerbic. Faye Wiggan and Maximilian Fairley bring a delightful freshness to Debbie and Harry’s exploration of true love and Joseph Langdon gently suggests the pain of Liam’s love unrequited while, as his father, Mark Benton is blunt but well-meaning; he does want the best for his children.

Philip Labey’s Peter should be the villain of the piece but he is too nice, at first at least, to take on HS2’s blame, though it is the people just doing their job who often make bad things possible. The nasty streak shows through in the way he treats Liam.

Samson Hawkins’s Syresham may seem doomed, but, despite HS2, they are putting a show on, organised by Harry Honeybone, and the main story is interrupted by numbers from it in which everyone gets involved. It provides some hilarious interjections, from a nipple-tasselled Kevin to Peter’s drag diva Cher and Harry’s prize-winning Royal scarecrow (complete with corgis).

This isn’t a play for the prudish. Its attitude to sex is a relaxed one and it is scattered with unnecessary adjectives, all blue ones, but that was partly why the audience loved it, logodiversity as well as neurodiversity. Our reviewer in Ipswich found the language too much, but if that doesn’t disturb you then enjoy it.

Village Idiot is adventurous in a different way from previous Ramps on the Moon productions, less embracing but exploring a perhaps more difficult area. Over seven productions, theatre practitioners have gained considerable experience in how to include the differently abled in their productions and meet the needs of a more diverse audience. This work must be carried forward.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton

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