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Review of Common at the Olivier Theatre – National Theatre


Anne-Marie Duff (Mary) in Common at the National Theatre (c) Johan Persson
Anne-Marie Duff (Mary) in Common at the National Theatre (c) Johan Persson

Enclosure may be something you haven’t heard of before. Okay, you will have heard the word but if you go back in history, enclosure had a different meaning than today. This was a time when wealthy landowners decided to change the way their property was farmed. Instead of all the locals individually working on a plot, the landowner created a proper farm by putting a fence around his property. He would then employ locals to work the farm for him. Of course, not everyone was required to work on the new farm, so those that couldn’t find work started migrating towards the towns fuelling the industrial revolution. This is the backdrop for DC Moore’s new play Common at the National Theatre

Rural England in 1809 and the peasants are revolting – literally as it happens. The local Lord (Tim McMullan) has decided to enclose all of his land and is getting a group of Irish workers under the command of Graham (Brian Doherty) to put up the fences. Every time they do though, the locals led by King (John Dagleish) take them down again much to the annoyance of the Lord and his henchman Heron (Trevor Fox). The Irish contingent are happy, as they keep getting paid to put fences up, but the peasants and the gentry are virtually at war with each other. Into this powder keg of confrontation comes Mary (Anne-Marie Duff). Mary is an odd woman. A former inhabitant of the village, she was thrown out by King because of her relationship with his sister Laura (Cush Jumbo). Believed dead, Mary made her way to London where, using all of her womanly wiles complete with a total lack of morals, she made her fortune and now returns to her village as a fine Lady out for revenge, or possibly something more.

It’s difficult to sum up my feelings for Common. There was an awful lot going on during the nearly two and a half hour running time. Just taking Mary’s character, she may, or may not have been a con woman and/or some form of psychic. She also may have had an overall plan when she returned to the village or she may have been making it up on the spot. It’s really difficult to know. However, Mary, as played by Anne-Marie Duff, is an intelligent and articulate woman who breaks the fourth wall on many occasions to tell the audience of her thoughts and plans. The thing is, I don’t think she is as smart as she – and by definition, the writer – thinks she is. Her grand plans seemed to come to nothing and by the end, I was left wondering what she had achieved during her time in the village and its environs. And I think this was the overall problem with the show. There is so much going on and there never really seems to be an ending. It’s almost like we, along with Mary, dropped in, watched the havoc then left, not really caring what happens next.

I have to say though, I quite enjoyed the actual production. The main characters move well under Director Jeremy Herrin – though there does seem to be a large ensemble of people whose purpose is to wander on and off the stage at intervals and Richard Hudson’s set works well. I do like the stage at the National. It spins around and odd bits of scenery suddenly come up out of the ground creating a whole new place in a few seconds. My favourite thing – and I suspect quite a few others will agree – was the animatronic crow, designed by Laura Cubitt, that accompanied Eggy Tom (Lois Chimimba) in the first act. It was so lifelike and just a delight to watch in action, especially when it turned up in Act II quite unexpectedly. There is quite a lot of complicated dialogue in the show, and it is pretty important that this can be heard by the audience wherever they sit. Unfortunately, this wasn’t always the case and even though I was sat near the front there were times when I wasn’t sure what had been said.

Having said all of this, I was entertained by Common. I personally think the writer may have lost the way slightly with the story but the production itself was quite enthralling and surprising in places – the end of Act I was completely unexpected and caused many a conversation in the interval. So, to sum up, I’m still not sure how I feel about Common. It was strangely compelling at times – the opening scene particularly held me spellbound – but overall, there was definitely something that left me feeling dissatisfied with what I had just seen.

3 Star Review

Review by Terry Eastham

An epic tale of England’s lost land.
Mary’s the best liar, rogue, thief and faker in this whole septic isle. And now she’s back.
As the factory smoke of the industrial revolution belches out from the cities, Mary is swept up in the battle for her former home. The common land, belonging to all, is disappearing.
DC Moore’s dark and funny new play is an epic tale of unsavoury action and England’s lost land.

Headlong’s Artistic Director, Jeremy Herrin (People, Places and Things, This House) directs Anne-Marie Duff as Mary and Cush Jumbo as Laura.
Please note: Common contains strong language from the start and scenes of a violent nature.

Production team
Director Jeremy Herrin
Designer Richard Hudson
Lighting Designer Paule Constable
Music Stephen Warbeck
Movement Director Joseph Alford
Sound Designer Ian Dickinson
Dance Siân Williams
Puppetry Laura Cubitt
Fight Director Rachel Bown-Williams of RC-ANNIE Ltd
Fight Director Ruth Cooper-Brown of RC-ANNIE Ltd
Company Voice Work Jeannette Nelson
Company Dialect Work Charmian Hoare
Staff Director John Haidar

Ian-Lloyd Anderson, Lois Chimimba, Peta Cornish, Anna Crichlow, John Dagleish, Brian Doherty, Amy Downham, Mary Anne-Marie

A co-production with Headlong
a new play by DC Moore
Travelex £15 tickets
Running Time: About 2 hours 25 minutes including interval


1 thought on “Review of Common at the Olivier Theatre – National Theatre”

  1. The word enthralling is a good one, I was totally engaged as I had no clue as to what was going to happen next. The play’s unpredictability was one of its strengths in my view. It was as though the ideas just kept coming. ‘Shall we have scythe ballet sequence? ‘How about escaping from a grave?’ I think the early reviews were unnecessarily harsh, there is so much dramatic art in this, I wouldn’t be surprised if it became a cult piece and when it is revived, the total theatricality of the invented language and overlaying sub plots will be properly acknowledged.

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