It is unusual when audience members have to walk across a well-manicured lawn and step over attractive garden foliage to reach their seats and even more unusual when the piece of theatre they have come to witness features such an experienced, distinguished three-strong cast, the combined age of which is at least 200.
The opening scene appears to begin to deliver what the play’s title evokes. Jim and Barbara, both seemingly content in their senior years, have reunited for the first time since school for the funeral of Julia, the mutual friend Jim has recently reconnected with through Facebook.
In the funeral’s wake, they relax in the peaceful, idyllic back garden of Barbara’s bed-ridden mother, enjoying tea and cake, musing over bonfires and dead badgers, reminiscing with fondness about days of yore. The start is, perhaps deliberately, painstakingly slow, but serves to pave the way for the twists, turns and complexities that follow.
Matters start to hot up with the entrance of Barbara’s neighbour. David Forest’s neurotic, nosy former policeman, Kenneth, creates overwhelming feelings of antipathy countered with sharp, dry wit, as he becomes immediately suspicious (and, as we later find, jealous) of Chris Bearne’s charismatic silver fox, Jim, whose refreshing new energy clearly threatens to interfere with Kenneth’s plans to woo Barbara.
Marji Campi creates an interesting contrast with the two men, her character beautifully understated, somewhat complacent. Accusations and bitterly caustic remarks fly whenever she leaves the garden and, as the plot unfolds and secret pasts are uncovered, homosexuality (is he, or isn’t he?), bribery, corruption, sibling rivalry and even murder are thrown into the mix. We are left wondering whether any of these people are actually who they claim to be and moreover, who is duping who?
Briffa’s concept not only serves to gradually smash to pieces all the clichés and common conceptions associated with old age, but explores the ever-expanding landscape of social media with its capacity to shape and change the lives of all kinds of people.
Country Life starts to do what is says on the tin, then turns it upside down and shakes it up. Quietly entertaining, brilliantly original.
- Helen Macdonald