Lands (Bush Theatre)

Posted: November 10, 2018 in Theatre

Creator: Antler      Director: Jaz Woodcock-Stewart


“The script is not sacred. It’s a blueprint” we are told in the preface to the printed text for Lands. A printed text normally signals that a work is a play, so anyone thinking of describing this piece as performance art or an extended comedy sketch needs to think again. Its Creator is Antler, a Bush Theatre Associate Artist company.

As a play, it falls into the absurdist genre, in the mould of Ionesco perhaps. More specifically, the sandy-coloured set brings to mind Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days, accepting that the woman here is not half-buried, rather she is trapped, bouncing up and down constantly on a child’s trampoline. Sand, in a proverbial sense, is also what the play’s two characters have their heads buried in, paying only token regard to each other and total disregard to the wider world.

Leah (Leah Brotherhead) is obsessed with a puzzle, describing the picture pieces that she is placing in it in meticulous detail. On the opposite side of the stage, Sophie (Sophie Steer) is bouncing, oblivious to anything that Leah is doing, but paying lip service to having an interest. Leah becomes irritated and asks Sophie to stop bouncing. “I CAN’T get off” Sophie screams. Does Sophie’s bounce represent an obsession or an addiction?Or is it just some nonsense that represents nothing at all? Many have asked that last question about Beckett too.

Director Jaz Woodcock-Stewart’s production really needs more pace and the script (or that part of it that is used) feels short on verbal wit. That said, the physical comedy that results from the increasingly adversarial relationship between the too protagonists is often very funny. It feels as if the cheery Leah and the solemn Sophie have only their bizarre preoccupations standing between themselves and simultaneous nervous breakdown.

The play comes closest to revealing a serious subtext when Leah rants a long list of things that she doesn’t care about, beginning with “the boy on the beach…refugees on the boats…detention centres…”. She is in fact chastising the audience for allowing life’s trivia to blur a wider vision. Planned to run for 80 minutes (it actually exceeded that by 10 minutes at the press performance), the production is much too long, but it is put together neatly, it has likeable performances and, yes, it also has bounce.

Performance date: 8 November 2018

This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub:

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