13 Mar

Time’s a funny thing. Read this review and you will have lost several minutes. But those few minutes would have slipped by anyway, regardless of how you had chosen to spend them.

Time is …. a great mystery. (Did you, for even a single moment, think a theatre critic would actually be able to explain it?)

Despite our belief in progress, or perhaps because of it, our culture is particularly bewildered by time. On several occasions in Simon Longman’s gloriously rich Gundog, individuals look at the difficulties they face, the challenges of eking out a living on a small British farm, and demand what time, what year, is this? How could these problems be happening now?

Time takes things from us. Mum is gone. Dad is going. Grandad, played with both delightful humour and affecting pathos by Mark Langham, is also on his way out. His crazy repeated stories are unconscious attempts to halt time. Anna, the matriarch by default, has a more conscious way of dealing with loss; she repeats the mantra it will be alright. But at every reiteration we wonder, and Jane Angharad portrays Anna with an utterly arresting tension between those two oh so closely related rivals, patience and despair. For her brother, Ben, despair appears the stronger, and James Smithers brilliantly captures the character’s anger and helplessness. LJ Wilson plays little sister Becky with the glorious dawn energy of youth, but red sky in the morning is a shepherd’s warning ……

Yes, they are shepherds, and for me the play evokes that grand tradition, present in British literature since the Romantics, of the shepherds’ life being particularly precarious. As in Wordsworth’s “Michael” and Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd, the loss of the flock is both terrifying and imminent. Yet this particular life is all these people know: time may take everything from us, but it is time that makes us feel this everything was ours. (What the play does not evoke is the religious sensibility of Blake’s “The Lamb”. There is no God, no benevolent overseer – only the encroaching darkness. This gritty, dismal world is powerfully suggested by Travis Kecek’s lighting design and Smither’s set.)

Despite all, immigrant worker Guy is glad to have food and board. Saro Lepejian’s offers a magnificent portrayal of modest, steel-in-the-spine gratitude. The silence of the country disturbs Guy. It is not silence, he says, that will save us. It is stillness.

He is not alone in this insight. In moving poetic language, several characters express the desire to stop time –  just for long enough to gain a little courage.

But you have not stopped time by choosing to read this review. And you will not stop time by getting along to director Anthony Skuse’s production of Gundog.

Still (yes, still), it is a beautiful production of a wondrous play.

Paul Gilchrist

Gundog by Simon Longman

presented by Secret House

at Kings Cross Theatre until 18 March

Image by Clare Hawley

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