Most of the new voices emerging from the Royal Court’s Young Writers’ Programme are those of the inner city, so Norfolk-born Molly Davies’s first new play – which I saw in an earlier draft in a Soho Theatre reading three years ago – is at least a refreshing change.
For this second play in the Young Writers Festival, the studio has been transformed by designer Patrick Burnier into an earthen scrubland with tufts of grass dotted around various interiors: grandmother Val’s kitchen, a bedroom, Amy’s flat, a well-worn jump-on roundabout in a small park, the corner in a farmyard piled high with bags of topsoil.
Val (Sorcha Cusack), a schools dinner lady, looks after Amy’s baby in a Norfolk village while Amy herself (Kate O’Flynn) works in a chicken nugget factory and resumes a friendship with old school friend Gary (Russell Tovey) who has returned home after serving in the army for two years. Gary’s dad Rob (Gerard Horan) trudges miserably around on the pig farm he once owned but where he is now an employee, and not well.
In the earlier Soho version, Gary was a middle-class scion of the pig-farming family and we never met his father; the incipient class conflict has been removed and the play much improved in giving a consistent vision of rural life at ground level, with a distinctive whiff of the early plays of Edward Bond and David Rudkin.
A sense of uneasy danger hangs around the small child as the renewed friendship develops in its grimy reality, snorts of cocaine, talk of going to Brighton and economic desperation. Amy trained as a hairdresser but then had the baby, though she went out of her way to have an “accidental” abortion. She’s all at sea, really.
Lyndsey Turner’s production is delivered at full pelt by a fine cast unfazed by the sawn-off, choppy quality of the dialogue or the rustic accents. O’Flynn’s Amy in particular has a defeated, baffled integrity about her that is utterly convincing, while Tovey’s Gary is another kind of victim hovering between the pointlessness of war and the scorn of a father he’s only come home to help. An edgy, seventy-minute piece, full of genuine promise.