Review: Eventide, Arcola Theatre

“It’s hard to get things right while they happen to you”

With his second play Eventide, one gets a sense of what the Barney Norris-verse is about. As with the aching splendour of last year’s Visitors, we’re in rural England and focusing on the smaller details of the big picture, the individual lives that make up a society that is struggling to keep pace with the changing world. An elegant three-hander played out over two key encounters a year apart, Alice Hamilton’s production is full of subtleties and subtly powerful acting that does real justice to Norris’ emerging voice as a playwright of real note.

In the pub garden of an establishment in deepest Hampshire, three lonely souls share their sorrows, specifically in one case as it is the day of a funeral but also more generally as the rural economy on which they all depend has become increasingly depressed, the world of farming very much no longer what it used to be. Pub landlord John is throwing in the towel and selling to a chain, church organist Liz is losing money foot over pedal as local gigs are so thin on the ground and Mark, whose best friend’s funeral it is, can’t go because a rare job offer – as painful as it is – has come up.

Norris’ writing has poignancy threaded through its every line. He excels in portraits of the everyday, unpicking the seemingly mundane and exposing the complex layers that make us all up, the struggles to reconcile difficult decisions, the pain that lies behind many a brave face, the strength it takes to get up for one more day in a world that’s getting harder and harder to live in. Hamilton understands this fully and so what could have been static in less sure hands becomes intricately detailed and beautiful to behold.

The hollow bluster of alcoholic raconteur John is sensitively portrayed by James Doherty, Ellie Piercy’s Liz similarly wields a torrent of words as a weapon to distract from an innate dissatisfaction with life, and Hasan Dixon charts Mark’s emotional growth beautifully as one year later we rejoin the trio on the day of a wedding, and see how much – or how little – has changed. James Perkins’ design frames this world perfectly, chicken-in-a-basket undoubtedly on the menu, and Simon Gethin Thomas’ lighting and George Dennis’ sound design each play their part in creating the ambience of something so regular yet simultaneously hugely significant. Beautifully done. 

Running time: 2 hours
Booking until 17th October, then touring to Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds; The North Wall, Oxford, Salisbury Playhouse; and Bristol Tobacco Factory

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *