Something about the Roundabout space encourages two-handers. That space with the seats rising up on every side, the intimacy of that low roof – it feels like a space which pushes its writers to stretch their muscles. Everything is exposed in an amphitheatre like that. Nowhere to hide. Relationships laid bare. I like it, but it can feel like I’ve seen slight variations on the same show multiple times.
Charley Miles’ debut feels fairly standard in its form – two young people, the first born in their Yorkshire village in 20 years, growing up together, drifting towards love and back away from it but always, always connected and returning to each other because of some magnetic force. He stays in the village for pretty much all of his young life; she goes to London to study and then returns and it’s a bit like her departure causes a rip in the fabric of the town. As soon as she leaves, the village starts to shift and mutate into something more unfamiliar, more unashamedly corporate. But then again, that was always going to happen. She embraces it and he pulls away. We’re not sure who’s right and who’s just being naïve.
The boy seems to think that in some way, she caused it. Harry Egan imbues him with this awful, erratic energy, a (not) romantic hero in the mode of Heathcliff with all of the trappings of that terrifying, troubled masculinity. He’s furious with her for leaving, furious with himself for staying, desperately lonely at his core. I find him repulsive. I wish that behaviour had been explored a little more, had not been allowed to stew in itself for so long.
Miles’ writing slips between the poetic and the banal, and occasionally into the overly expositional. There are pockets of text where I can feel every narrative beat being hit. It’s odd – I feel like I know so much about the world Him and Her are living in but also, just nothing at all. The world outside these two characters, outside their intensely emotional duologues, doesn’t really seem to exist in 3D. It’s frustrating for a play which should feel rooted to the feeling of dust and soil under feet. Jacqui Honess-Martin directs with care and sensitivity, but there these movement interludes choreographed by Natasha Harrison which feel dated and deter from the text.
There’s something interesting to be said by Miles about the corporatisation of the countryside and the way masculinity twists and contorts inside itself – it’s just a shame that all that stuff is wrapped up inside a too-safe, almost-love story.
Blackthorn is on Paines Plough Roundabout until 26th August. More info here.