Omnibus Theatre, London ****
Runs: 90 mins without interval
Box Office: phone: 0207 498 4699
Review of performance seen June 11, 2019:
Marie McCarthy’s Clapham Omnibus venue never ceases to surprise. Dedicated, as befits its previous life as a library, to story-telling in all its various forms, Scott Le Crass’s revival of Simon Stephens’ Country Music is itself a revelation.
There have been plenty of plays about prison and prison life but Le Crass takes Stephens’ stark four-hander – which I apparently found sentimental in its initial run directed by ATC’s Gordon Anderson, no less, at the Royal Court in 2004 – and turns it into a different kind of `road drama’ and profoundly moving study in awkwardness and emotional and social deprivation.
Jamie (an impressive Cary Crankson, full of presence, menace and inarticulate vulnerability) comes from Gravesend. A product of the Essex estuary, he has linked up with Lynsey (Rebecca Stone, impressionable but sensible) and in a sudden casual moment of madness, knifed someone down at the `offie’.
Jamie doesn’t seem to suffer much from conscience and talks of grabbing a car and disappearing into the night, to Margate or even Southend. Lynsey isn’t so sure. And Stephens’ text, apart from its torrent of four letter expletives, doesn’t give too much away as to motivation.
Gap filling comes later, incrementally, bit by stuttering bit, in a series of forward flashes and a final flashback scene of innocent attraction when Jamie first meets Lynsey as a schoolgirl.
Stephens is a sensitive writer at the best of times. But Scott Le Crass’s fine, indeed tremendous production for a small space, brings out all the raw intensity of Stephens’s exploration of the awful casualness of crime when moral codes are missing either through lack of education, love or upbringing.
Country Music was apparently written after Stephens had spent time talking to offenders in prison. What he captures best in Jamie is his paucity of language, the violence that springs from that, and his desperate attempts to communicate with those he most loves – Lynsey and Emma, their daughter from whom he is separated by spending time in prison, and his younger brother Matty.
Domestic abuse is hinted at but never fully developed by Stephens in a text where silence is hardly golden but eloquently expresses the internal despair of its characters and which Scott Le Crass’s direction delivers with such brilliance and precision.
Designer Liam Shea provides a simple platform of ropes representing the outlines of the Dartford Bridge beside which Cary Crankson deposits various items of clothing as he moves through the episodes of his life and against a backdrop of videos of speeding cars and highways.
For all its uncomfortable indeed harrowing material, Crankson and Rebecca Stone as the two lovers, Jamie and Lynsey are a delight – watchful and responsive to each other’s every nuance in speech and emotion, as is Dario Coates Matty and especially Frances Knight as Emma, the daughter trying to negotiate a difficult relationship with a father she has barely known.
Jamie’s attempts to build a bridge to this abandoned daughter is nothing less than heartbreaking as he tries to awaken memories in her of his tentative fathering when she was very small and in turn, her rejection of him by her refusal and denial of such memories.
Scott Le Crass and his excellent cast are to be congratulated in bringing all the richness of a text which asks painful questions about prison and rehabilitation – does it really work or make matters worse? – back to the fore.
A truly remarkable, rather wonderful small gem retrieved.
by Simon Stephens
Jamie: Cary Crankson
Emma: Frances Knight
Matty: Dario Coates
Lynsey: Rebecca Stone
Director: Scott Le Crass
Designer: Liam Shea
Lighting Designer: Benny Goodman
Casting Director: Rob Kelly CSA
Presented by Freerun Productions: Artistic Director, Scott Le Crass
Executive Producer: Thomas Hopkins
Associate Producer: Kevin Nolan
Country Music opened at the Omnibus Theatre, London on May 29, 2019.
Runs to June 23, 2019.
Review published on this site, June 12. 2019