I’ve been to theatre performances in some strange places in the course of my critical career, but Eastern Angles’ choice of venue for Bentwater Roads has to be a strong contender for the most spectacular. On an isolated disused airfield deep in the Suffolk countryside stands The Hush House, where the American Air Force tested jet engines during the Cold War. It’s an enormous aircraft hangar with a tunnel at one end.
Tony Ramsay’s play weaves three stories from the past into a contemporary one. Charlie is a young woman with a campervan, a fairly useless male friend and a vast quantity of unresolved family hang-ups. A US pilot is forced by impending fatherhood to reconsider his priorities and values as he rehearses responses to a perceived Soviet threat. In the 15th century the church of St John the Baptist in Wantisden acquires a new tower. During a time before even the Romans, let alone the Normans, a suffering community requires a blood sacrifice.
Because the location is in so many ways a place outside time, these disparate elements do interweave quite satisfactorily. Nadia Morgan is very good as Charlie, returned to a cottage which she’s never really called home when her actress mother (Pamela Buchner) dies and she calls in the local estate agent Andrew (Daniel Copeland) to sell the place. Enter Mal (the excellent Peter Sowerbutts), a friend of the family who poses some awkward questions.
Jez (Mark Knightley) isn’t much help with finding solutions of any sort. He may have a permanent girl-friend somewhere else, but the thought of what the pretty little cottage might make on the open market is too tempting. Interestingly, Knightley also plays Crotus, the young villager who sees his beloved Cunovinda (Caitlin Thorburn) taken to propitiate the gods and is prepared to do something positive about it. Sally Ann Burnett plays two widows, Cunovinda’s mother and Mistress Middleton, who commissions the church tower.
Ramsay’s script is most credible when dealing with the more modern characters; his difficulty is in writing for those of the past in a way which seems equally authentic when presented in such close juxtaposition. We need to believe that all these people are equally three-dimensional and alive as they come before us, and I for one didn’t feel that. Ivan Cutting directs his large cast of professional actors and community volunteers to keep most of the longueurs at bay. The designer is Keith Baker.