Chris Eldon Lee review Pentabus Theatre Company’s “Idyll” which is at Stokesay Court near Craven Arms until Sunday 22nd August – and then touring.
I enjoyed the last collaboration between Pentabus Theatre Company and writer Matt Hartley so much, I saw it twice. Now, under the company’s new director Elle While, I’m delighted to report that the magic is working all over again. Whilst ‘Here I Belong’ was a singular story of one woman living in the same village all her life, this time Pentabus lay the whole community before us. Needless to say, as we rural dwellers well know, the ‘Idyll’ is far from idyllic.
Its starts pastorally enough with a love affair with Ordnance Survey Maps – but winds up with a kind of ‘High Noon’ confrontation in the village hall carpark.
It’s an hour-long solo piece centred around an unnamed villager – in ponytail, pit boots, and hairy legs – in an unnamed isolated village. We could be anywhere (which is Hartley’s final point). The forces at work are universal. Only the details differ.
But the timing is precise. The Lockdown is over. It’s a stiflingly hot July day .The villagers are either furloughed or working from home. So, they are ‘around’ and connected to each other by the village Facebook account, which is run, as usual, by the village idiots. Then, inevitably, unshackled Townies arrive in their droves.
There are so many cars littering the place the hearse carrying a villager to his funeral is delayed by two hours. Elsewhere in the village, rabbits are devastating a strawberry patch ( so a gun is required) and two respectable village women share an illicit lesbian kiss. And that night, unaccounted for lights are seen up in the woods.
From these tiny, seemingly trivial, vignettes, Hartley builds and builds towards a powerful, disconcerting climax. It’s as if we are holding our breath, watching, the actor carefully creating a playing card pyramid … until the writer nudges his elbow.
Hartley’s master builder is the excellent Harry Egan who has the ability to mesmerise without any visible aids whatsoever (though he conjures up numerous invisible ones). Both the writing and the acting are finely executed with pinpoint precision, delicately laid over Daniel Balfour’s subtle soundtrack.
It’s a demanding hour. There are times when you wouldn’t want to be eating a picnic! The underlying tensions may be familiar territory, but they are excellently presented with a remarkable new energy that keeps the play well clear of country cliché.