Smallholding is a portrait of a couple attempting to make things work for the sake of their relationships; with each other, with their absent daughter, and with the world.
Set in a small house at the end of a field in Northamptonshire, Jen and Andy are leaving the town behind them and trying to start over. Parsnips will be grown, "Nigella’s prestigious pavlova", (complete with grapes for lychees and KitKats instead of passionfruit) will be eaten, and struggles against the ever-present spectre of addiction will be had, with varying levels of success.
Chris New and Matti Houghton are both excellent actors with strong chemistry; the piece wouldn’t be half what it is without their thoughtful performances. New, who gave such a shatteringly upsetting performance as Presley in the Arcola’s similarly intense (if darker) Pitchfork Disney, is, as ever, a captivating, intriguing watch.
Houghton, particularly in her moments alone, is able to convey much with very little, and as Andy veers away from all sense of himself, becoming something seriously disturbing and unpleasant; Houghton expertly conveys Jen’s drift from the norm, her desperate battle to stay clean, and then, almost inevitably, her failure.
Chris Dunkley’s intense script ("You’re not worth anything at all," Jen tells Andy during one of their bigger arguments) takes its time to get going, slowly inducting us into the duo’s world, leaving the big plot points until later in the day. This ebb and flow, although helping us to care about their relationship, and showing us how inextricably entwined they are, also causes some problems – the arc isn’t quite as solid as it should be.
While there are moments of great, gasping intensity in Patrick Sandford's production, all too often the plot, fairly predictable once the major revelations are out of the way, drifts, leaving you somewhat hamstrung between interest and dissatisfaction. It's a confusing one, this, but at just 80 minutes, it certainly won't leave you bored.