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Eisteddfod (Henham Park, Latitude Festival)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Widower Ben Pilgrim is dying and it’s not going to be an easy process. He and his family – sons Matthew and Jon, daughter Sarah, and Matthew’s partner Vera, all fresh from the council estates of Ipswich – are en-route to Suffolk’s Bluedale Eisteddfod to tell their folk-tales.

However, this family is more dysfunctional than most and soon the skeletons are rattling their ways out of its many cupboards. Sarah and Vera harbour the biggest skeleton of all and it’s very angry and threatening to tear the family apart.

In all honesty, it’s hard to find any affection for the Pilgrims – Matthew and Vera (Alex Warren and Laura Prior) are prime contenders for The Jeremy Kyle Show, weak-willed Jon (Sean Hart) ups tail and runs for the hills at the first sign of anything in the least bit threatening, while father Ben (Keith Swainston) is a gruff obsessive and it’s a wonder that the dear departed Julie stuck with him as long as she did. It’s only Sarah Hoare’s Sarah, desperate to escape her mediocre life and see the world, who solicits any real pathos.

Eisteddfod is beautifully-crafted theatre that, even performed in a forest in the rain with nothing but a campervan as a backdrop, impresses with the power of its narrative and certainly its performances. However, it’s not without flaws. Some of Luke Barnes’ dialogue, especially Ben’s, is a little wordy and occasionally incongruous with the characters – who clearly do not originate from Suffolk.

While there’s not enough time to establish their back-story, the question arises why these pieces of Suffolk rough are heading off to perform at a rural folk festival in the first place – they’re hardly the Von Trapps.

Director Rob Drummer has excelled at bringing his small cast together to create a genuinely engaging piece. Whatever defects Eisteddfod has are minor ones and are far outweighed by its virtues.

The show has been compiled by HighTide from snippets of real-life experiences garnered from events such as the company’s annual theatre Festival. With a few judicious trims here and there, it clearly has a life outside the festival circuit.


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