“I think most of us are walking around in a sort of slumber really”
With a revival of The Pride just announced as the next production in Jamie Lloyd’s Trafalgar Studios residency, it seemed like a good time to visit Alexi Kaye Campbell’s latest play Bracken Moor at the Tricycle. That said, I have to admit to not being the greatest fan of this ambitious mash-up of political/economic drama and ghost story which is co-produced by Shared Experience and directed by their own Polly Teale. In the midst of the 1930s financial crisis, Yorkshire landowner Harold and his wife Elizabeth are still shell-shocked by the ghastly death of their young son Edgar ten years since and only now are they acquiescing to an extended visit from their old friends Vanessa and Geoffrey. But as they retrace their old friendship, the presence of the visitors’ son Terence awakens something more sinister.
Terence was Edgar’s boyhood best friend and within a few nights, appears to become possessed by Edgar’s restless spirit. This provokes his parents to finally start to deal with their buttoned-up grief but in hugely different ways. Helen Schlesinger’s extraordinarily affecting Elizabeth clings to every possible shred of hope that she could actually be communicating with her lost son and the rawness of her grief is spell-binding. And the much more pragmatic Harold, Antony Byrne in classically old-school English mode, finds himself questioning the decisions he has to make about a dispute over pit closures, his capitalist certainties challenged by this brush with the unknown.
But it is all very dry stuff. The aforementioned debate about the pit closures versus plans to try and save jobs opens the play with an almost stagnant pace and the wood-panelled, staircase-dominated set designed by Tom Piper just feels too cavernous, leaving the actors marooned and sapping the energy from many a scene. The supernatural scenes, once they come, will undoubtedly make you jump but that is because of the loud noises rather than any sense of the genuinely chilling and given the arid nature of so much of the writing, it is hard to feel any real sense of engagement with these characters or their plight.
The performance level is never less than high – Schlesinger really is excellent, Sarah Woodward and Simon Shepherd make an appealing pair as the visiting friends, I really enjoyed Natalie Gavin’s matter-of-fact maid with her plain-spoken clarity and Joseph Timms makes a more than decent fist of the challenging part of Terence, a slippery customer indeed as he twists and turns through the tale. But this is an uneasy mixture of its constituent parts – social commentary, period melodrama, ghost story – and I’m not sure it ever really combines into something greater than the whole.