Odeon Theatre, Fri Nov 14
Given that this is a story about mine closures, the death of a child, depression, and economic hard times it could have been a real downer, but it is far from it. British playwright Alexi Kaye Campbell has managed to script a tale that is bleak, yet still enthralling and instructive. As the play tells us, it’s not just about the stories, but about the meaning behind them, and this work manages to tread that fine line between darkness and hope. You leave with a heightened awareness of what it means to be alive, and knowing that you have just seen a wonderful piece of theatre.
It’s been a long time since I’ve enjoyed a play with a largish cast and not been able to spot a weak link. There was some stilted delivery early on – perhaps forgivable on an opening night – but as the characters warmed to their task and became enmeshed in each other’s lives it just flowed. Independent Theatre should be congratulated for choosing this great work, and having the actors to deliver it with aplomb. It felt like a movie at times (and I’m not sure why this is a compliment) but it was engrossing in the way that action on a big screen is by default. This was live theatre at its best.
There were so many strong performances that it seems unfair to single out any one of them but as everything rather depends on the persuasive actions of Terence Avery being possessed by the spirit of Edgar, the lost child of Harold and Elizabeth Pritchard, one must highlight the performance of Will Cox who managed his dual roles brilliantly; argumentative and cocky as the young returned traveller, and totally convincing as the tormented spirit of Edgar. The character of Elizabeth, his poor grief-stricken mother (played by Alicia Zorkovic) is annoying at first as she stubbornly and stupidly hangs on to her grief, but slowly we come to understand that she needs to plumb the depths of her grief before she can let it go. And with that comes a degree of wisdom about the alternatives life may have in store for her.
Others experience their own epiphanies as they face the harrowing events of ghosts and possession and re-enacting death. All except for mine owner Harold Pritchard. In temporal and worldly terms he’s the richest and most powerful of them all, but he has the most difficulty accepting that supernatural/spiritual events that he can’t control might actually be real. He fails to accept that he could be released from a life where he carries the weight of the world on his shoulders. Brant Eustice plays the role beautifully – confident and certain in business matters, but equally bamboozled and dumbstruck by events he previously believed were the domain of dreamers and misfits. He does ultimately experience a brief moment of redemption, but not enough to change his ways.
Lyn Wilson is quite commanding as Vanessa Avery until she, too, realises she has no choice but to give in to the apparent madness of her dear friend Elizabeth. David Roach provides some humorous moments as the family doctor who jumps at the chance to discuss the supernatural, and is perfect in this role. Heather McNab has just the right amount of presence and deference as Eileen Hannaway the Maid, and I really enjoyed Angus Henderson’s portrayal of the foreman defending the rights of sacked miners. Like I said, not a weak link anywhere.
There is a moment toward play’s end when Elizabeth stands in total silence and, as one, the audience was silent with her; the air of emotion and anticipation was real, palpable. It’s a magic moment – we were totally in her hands. We were living the story.
Bracken Moor is a moral tale with an unexpected twist that, when it comes, will have you re-evaluating everything you’ve seen so far. It’s an ancient question, but it seems the ends may indeed justify the means.
Kudos to Director Rob Croser for the way he’s crafted this superb show. Bravo to all concerned.
by Michael Coghlan
Bracken Moor continues at Odeon Theatre, Norwood, until Sat Nov 22.