The green belt is tightening round London like a noose in Thomas Eccleshare’s intriguing debut play. It’s ‘Day of the Triffids’ in a council flat, as the forces of nature have run rampant through the capital, with greenery sprouting through the pavement and the cast of Farthing Wood skittering through the undergrowth.
At its heart ‘Pastoral’ is a good old-fashioned survival drama, with an oddball cast of characters starving and bitching in a claustrophobic hidey-hole, with plenty of gazing out of the window and wistful reporting on the growing state of emergency. Eccleshare’s conceit is ingenious, and gives plenty of scope for his wicked and slightly surreal humour.
Anna Calder-Marshall’s performance as the flat’s elderly tenant Moll is rib-crackingly good, and she provides an anchor of gentle pathos as the action creeps gradually into absurd farce.
The problem is that though there's an initial pleasure in Eccleshare's twinning of the specificities of the city and the country, the overlaying of pond sedge with Paperchase, of warrens of rabbits with the yoghurt aisle at Aldi, it begins to feel overused as the tension gradually winds down.
There are tantalising strains of the political and the mythological, and Michael Vale’s ambitious design is full of wonderful surprises, but there’s something hollow or incomplete at the centre of ‘Pastoral’: an unwillingness to commit, or to drive its best ideas through.
By Stewart Pringle