If you’ve ever had the uncomfortable feeling that life’s passing you by (which, let’s be honest, we all have from time to time), you’ll be able to relate to Eventide, a new play by Barney Norris and Up In Arms Theatre, directed by Alice Hamilton. Inspired by the writer’s own country upbringing, it’s the story of three people struggling to adapt when the life they thought they knew – and assumed would go on forever – comes to an unexpected end.
In the back garden of a traditional village pub in Hampshire, John prepares for his last day as landlord; he’s been forced to sell to a chain following the breakdown of his marriage, and is worried about how the locals will take it. The same day sees the funeral of Lucy, Mark’s best friend and first love – but he can’t go, because he’s been hired to repair the war memorial she crashed her car into, and needs the money to pay his rent. Then church organist Liz arrives for the service, having driven for two hours, as she does every month because she wants to play the organ but can’t get a gig any closer to home.
The three characters are all very likeable, which makes their struggles much more poignant. In the early scenes, James Doherty almost steals the show as John, a stereotypical pub landlord with a beer constantly in his hand and a seemingly endless repertoire of questionable jokes. But as the play goes on, it becomes clear that John’s jolly, larger than life exterior hides a fragile and damaged soul, and Doherty captures particularly well the quieter moments when this vulnerability peeks through. Hasan Dixon also shines as Mark, particularly in the second act as he begins to realise maybe he is good enough to be loved after all, and – in a reversal of roles from Act 1 – is finally able to dispense a little advice of his own. The trio’s completed by Ellie Piercy, who gives a wonderfully sympathetic performance as church organist Liz; her kind nature and obvious deep dissatisfaction with her life mean that her terrible habit of talking too much and putting her foot in it is easily forgiven.
The power of Eventide is that it’s totally real. It’s not just the characters, who are very easy to relate to as people, or the rural setting, which is brilliantly evoked; though we never leave the pub garden, we can picture the interior (’sweat and dogs’) and the nearby stately home. We can even feel the sense of community, despite never seeing any other people. But more than that, the story itself is firmly fixed in reality, and doesn’t always go in the direction you might expect. Don’t expect everything to be neatly concluded at the (rather sudden) end of the play, either – unfortunately, life just isn’t like that, as much as we might all want it to be.
Each of Eventide’s three characters is dealing with their own individual loss, whether it’s a person, a business or simply a way of life. And each is very good at advising others on how to live, but not so good at practising what they preach; as Liz wisely observes, ‘it’s hard to get things right while they happen to you’. But all three, at some point, offer up the same lesson to the others: don’t let life sweep you along. Take a chance, seize control of your own destiny, and stop dwelling on the past – but at the same time, respect the background and history that have brought you here, and made you the person you are. That important and inspiring message, which we all need to hear now and again, runs through the very heart of this moving and genuine play.
Review by Liz Dyer
Up in Arms and Arcola Theatre present in association with The North Wall
The world première of EVENTIDE By Barney Norris
Directed by Alice Hamilton
Designer James Perkins
Lighting Designer Simon Gethin Thomas
Sound Designer George Dennis
Producer Chloe Courtney
Cast: Hasan Dixon, James Doherty and Ellie Piercy
23rd September – 17th October, 2015 at Arcola Theatre
Then on national tour until 14 November
24 Ashwin Street
London E8 3DL
Saturday 26th September 2015