Saturday 13th July 2013, matinee
When we heard that Shared Experience were going to put on ‘Bracken Moor’, a new play by Alexi Kaye Campbell at the Tricycle, we didn’t stop to read any further – we booked immediately, and hence saw the play knowing nothing about the author or the story, apart from a vague sense from the poster that it would involve ghosts.
This is Alexi Kaye Campbell’s fourth play, after an impressive run, which includes the much-garlanded ‘The Pride’, about to be revived at the Trafalgar Studios. The plot seems to us to contain elements of ‘Sleuth’ and ‘An Inspector Calls’ with a supernatural twist. It also feels like a throwback to the days of well crafted ‘drawing room’ drama, when Noel Coward and Terrence Rattigan ruled the stage. Two families are reunited after ten years, following the tragic death of the 12 year old Edgar, son of Harold and Elizabeth, and close friend of Terence, the now grown up son of Geoffrey and Vanessa. In the course of one stormy night, they are forced to confront their buried emotions when Terence appears to be channelling Edgar’s spirit. Or is he?
Set in the 1930s, the parallels with modern times are clear, as we sense the fragility of society going through an economic crisis, and the themes of social inequality, intolerance, material greed and technology overtaking humanity seem as relevant as ever.
The cast all give strong performances. Joseph Timms has possibly the biggest challenge as Terence, who is both the catalyst for the action and a symbol of everything which the industrialist Harold abhors, being a University drop-out who rejects Western materialism in favour of introspection and world travel, hoping one day to be an ‘artist’. He has the enthusiasm and arrogance of youth and is charming and verbose in equal measure, and Timms carries off this combination with eloquent conviction. Helen Schlesinger as grieving mother Elizabeth is full of stoical anguish, perfectly controlled and building up to the emotional climax of the play. Daniel Flynn as Harold, whose strength comes from his lack of imagination, conveys the desperation behind the rigid exterior with compassion and depth. Simon Shepherd and Sarah Woodward as Terence’s slightly more relaxed and superficial parents bring humour and lighthearted energy to the mix.
It is hard to really discuss the play without revealing the plot, but the pay-off is certainly intriguing and there is much to enjoy in the drama, which is genuinely thought-provoking. Not that we are fans of plays which don’t have intervals, but we were surprised that at a running time of just under two hours including the interval, the author didn’t consider a little judicious cutting and a straight-through run of the action to keep up the dramatic tension. The other thing we noticed was that this play seems to mark a departure from the distinctive style of the productions we have seen so far from ‘Shared Experience’, aptly described on their website as a fusion of text-based and physical theatre. Though well-written and of high quality, this is a relatively ‘straight’ theatrical experience. Is there any connection, we wonder, between this apparent move towards the mainstream, and the drastic cut in funding which the company received two years ago. We hope the trademark Shared Experience style, which has made the company famous for staging the apparently unstageable, won’t disappear entirely.