Andy is a Steve Redgrave obsessive who dreams of becoming a biodynamic farmer; Jen is the former girl next door who dreams of bucolic domestic bliss. Together, they’ve quit a scratchy life in London for a dilapidated smallholding in Northamptonshire where they plan to grow parsnips and find some kind of peace.
So begins Chris Dunkley’s intense two-hander, co-produced by Southampton’s Nuffield Theatre – where the play premiered last year – and Suffolk’s HighTide Festival. HighTide has a canny eye for new writing talent, and it’s easy to see why Dunkley’s script appealed: he is shrewd on the knife-edge balance between intimacy and menace that defines many a dysfunctional relationship, and his play hits a zeitgeisty note about small-scale farming versus the overwhelming power of the supermarkets.
It’s a shame, then, that despite a promising start, Dunkley’s play never quite adds up to the sum of its parts. Secrets are hinted at early on, piquing the audience’s attention, but their gradual revelation is anticlimactic; and some of Patrick Sandford’s later directorial decisions feel ill-judged.
Still, Matti Houghton and Chris New are generally excellent as Jen and Andy, achieving an impressive level of naturalism. And Fabrice Serafino’s design convincingly turns the Soho’s sweltering upstairs space into a rundown farmhouse: a place where one couple’s dreams look set to dissolve quickly into nightmares.
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