David (Matt Lanigan) and Jane (Laura Lindsay) develop ways of coping with the murder of their daughter by Richard (Adam Urey). David attempts a rational analytical approach to understanding Richard’s motives. Jane becomes disassociated and begins to hold imaginary conversations with the murderer. Richard oversees all developments and tells his story in the form of a fairy tale set In a Land Much Like Ours.
Rob Johnston’s play is complex and demanding but its sheer ambition overwhelms the limited running time. In order to squeeze in all the themes Johnston has to compartmentalise sections of the play. The early scenes explore the philosophies that underlie the play and the later ones bring out the emotional impact of the developments upon the individuals.
Inevitably, therefore, there is contrivance and points are boldly stated rather than emerging naturally. It might have been better to focus on key concepts (such as the nature of obsession or that anyone who looks too long into the abyss finds that it looks back) rather than offer so many. The balance of Richard’s 'other world' presence alongside the daily existence of the bereaved couple adds texture but distracts from the emotional impact. A longer running time might have allowed a smoother transition between the scenes and the various themes to emerge more subtly and be explored in depth.
Such a complex play requires a confident director to ensure clarity and Sam Buist achieves this and more. He has the underrated ability to convey changes in time and place clearly with simple changes in costumes and body language. Setting the play in a child’s nursery with strong primary colours has a powerful evocative effect and Buist gets great dramatic impact from a few basic props.
Adam Urey’s blustering larger than life character is far from the usual quiet, devious psychopath but at times you wonder if the intention was simply to avoid yet another variation on Hannibal Lecter. There is deep understanding in the characterisation by Lanigan and Lindsay. Lanigan’s approach to David’s mental deterioration is subtle illustrated in slight changes in posture that add up to an overall picture of defeat moving into obsession. Lindsay takes Jane to the edge of grief and survives by the sad, but effective, approach of erecting mental defences as shown in Lindsay’s increasingly self-contained even brittle performance.
In a Land Much Like Ours has excellent direction and performances and its few flaws are the result of trying too hard which is always better than complacency.
- Dave Cunningham