From the start, the scene is impressive in its simplicity. An old man (Dodge, played by Sebastian Frend) sits on a sofa in his living room; a room consisting of a front door, windows and damp on the walls. The whole play takes place in this one room, allowing the audience to feel the intensity of the family whilst still trying to figure out their secret. The constant sound of the rain emphasised the dreary, unchangeable atmosphere.
It is a tale of the failed American Dream.
Nevertheless, in the first act, I was left a bit disappointed with the level of the acting compared to the tone which was initially created by the scenery and the sound effects. Ben Maries’s (Tilden) inconsistent American accent undermined the realism of his characterisation. Although Frend played the character of the angry old man well, he was simply playing a one note angry old man; lacking in characteristic depth. In Act One, the main difficulty, from an audience’s point of view, was Dodge’s ten to fifteen minute conversation with an offstage Halie (Lucy Bromilow). Trying to follow along with this important background information was difficult and the decision to position Bromilow offstage was a strange choice.
The body language of the whole cast cleverly illuminated the shifts in power.
However, the brilliance of the second half suggests that the problems with the first act were opening night quibbles that will get better throughout the week. Without the sound of rain, the actors were given the chance to shine amidst the sudden silence and their performances excelled, particularly in the longer monologues. The body language of the whole cast cleverly illuminated the shifts in power: Tilden’s hunched figure compared to the spine-tingling aggression of Bradley (Greg Link). Dodge was no longer simply a stereotype of an angry old man. When both Bromilow and Michael Ferdenzi (Vince) appeared on the stage you could feel the stage change with their presence; for student actors to proclaim such a strong stage presence was very impressive. The only weak link was Steven William Hardy’s Father Dewis – whilst the role was not badly acted, the character seemed superfluous. His representation of the limitations of religion as providing answers seemed unnecessary and Anna Stubbs as Shelly portrayed an outsider much more successfully.
‘Buried Child’ works well through the mystery and confusion.
The surrealist, mysterious and off-the-wall side to ‘Buried Child’ provided a more nuanced development to what could have been another great, but predictable, tale of the failed American Dream. Director Gus Herbert showed that he really understood the themes that Pulitizer Prize winning playwright Sam Shepard was getting at, striking the right tone of blending the realist and surrealist, the dreariness with the forgetfulness. However, whilst the atmosphere of this play made for an intense and engaging tragedy, a few of the specific answers of plot and mystery might have been lost. But the lack of clarity doesn’t bother me too much – ‘Buried Child’ works well through the mystery and confusion. Catch it if you can – if the intensity and eeriness gets a bit too much for you, there’s even the odd bit of dark humour to lighten the mood.
Buried Child will be running at the Nottingham New Theatre until Saturday 16th November. For more information and ticket reservations visit their website.