Review: Country Music, Omnibus Theatre

A sensational performance from Cary Crankson anchors a powerful production of Simon Stephens’ Country Music at Clapham’s Omnibus Theatre

“I want you to forgive me for the things I’ve done”

A glance at the cast for the original run of Simon Stephens’ 2004 Country Music at the Royal Court sees Sally Hawkins and Laura Elphinstone, a killer for the FOMO in me. But hopefully in 10 years time or so, people will be looking at the cast for this revival at Clapham’s Omnibus Theatre and saying I saw Cary Crankson way back when…

He’s an actor I’ve rated for a while now – he won my Best Actor in 2014 for The Saints, he was a standout in The Faction’s ensemble too, so if there’s any justice we’ll be talking about him much more very soon. For he is sensational here as the troubled Jamie, the young man at the heart of this elusive but exquisitely painful play.   

As is Stephens’ wont, his drama is structured elliptically as we visit Jamie at 10-yearly intervals before doubling back to the beginning. And at each stage, fragments of information are offered to us in and around pointed silences, to be pieced together to get to the heart of the story. For Jamie has committed a crime, a terrible crime, and he’s no concept of the price to be paid.

Scott Le Crass’ production is finely attuned to the rhythm of Stephens’ writing, unafraid to let it speak for itself and make its audience work just a little more than they might be used to. For as we move from joyride to prison visiting rooms to joyless B&Bs, from teenage girlfriends to truculent half-brothers to long-estranged daughters, there are worlds of pain to unpick here.

Liam Shea’s enigmatic set design is quietly beautiful and the use of video in the scene changes amps up the quiet desperation here, the aching humanity of lives gone awry. And Crankson spares us nothing of how the prison system can chew up a man, particularly one already let down by society, and the way he hollows out his voice as he ages is deeply affecting.

Powerful work indeed, both from a theatre that deserves more credit for carving out an essential place on the fringe, and from an actor who we will surely be talking about for years to come.

Running time: 75 minutes (without interval)
Photo: Bonnie Britain
Country Music is booking at the Omnibus Theatre until 23rd June

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