The Theatreguide.London Review
Tricycle Theatre Summer 2013
Alexi Kaye Campbell's new play, set in 1937, opens with the manager of a coal company coolly rejecting the pleas of a workers' representative not to close a pit and put men out of work. But that's not what the play is about.
The manager and his wife are being visited by another couple, old friends they haven's seen in a decade. But that's not what the play is about.
The visitors' twentyish son engages his host in a debate of mystical idealism against cynical practicality, but that's not what the play is about.
The host couple had a child who died in particularly dreadful circumstances, and his spirit now inhabits the young visitor, dybbuk-like, to re-enact his death and ask his mother to end her grieving. But, though that takes up much of the middle of the play, it is not what the play is about.
A character we've never seen before and will not see again appears to tell a long ghost story, but it is not what the play is about.
The mother abruptly announces that she is leaving her husband, whose overbearing nature has robbed her of her identity, though we have seen no indication of this. But that, we will learn, is also not . . . .
Bracken Moor changes subject and focus every twenty minutes or so, not in a cumulative or mutually resonating way, but just by repeatedly dropping what it's been talking about and beginning what amounts to a whole new play.
It may be the country house setting, with a maid offering tea and the men dressing for dinner, but Bracken Moor feels like an anthology of all the plays a 1940s weekly rep company might have done in a season. (There's even a Christie-style whodunit, as the play drips with hints that the host may have somehow caused his son's death, but – spoiler alert – they're all red herrings.) And they just can't all be squeezed into one evening.
Director Polly Teale of co-producers Shared Experience has never been afraid of taking on big sprawling texts like staged novels. But she is unable to paper over the gaping cracks in this script and give Bracken Moor any coherence of subject or theme.
On top of everything else the play is written in a self-consciously literary style, with characters making what sound like prepared and polished speeches at each other, and a hard-working cast must strive to bring some realism to lines like 'You can not own the coal any more than you can own the waters that lap our shores or the sky that rages above our heads' and 'You're threatened by the whispers in the trees, by the shapes and shadows that dance at your feet and more than anything else, by the true meaning of love'.
Credit to them for immersing themselves in this mode and remaining committed to it (by which I mean keeping straight faces), with the showiest roles admirably navigated by Daniel Flynn (host), Helen Schlesinger (wife) and Joseph Timms (possessed young man).
Review - Bracken Moor - Tricycle Theatre 2013