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Photo by Agata Lulkowsk
by Nick Darke
King’s Head Theatre
This 45 minute one man play, originally commissioned by the RSC in 1985, is a master class of Darke humour in terms of wit laden wisdom. Or is that wisdom laden wit? Ambivalence, in all its guises: fear, class, power struggles, gossip, commoditization, ownership aka ‘collateral’, is the very thing this play addresses. It takes a master writer plugged into his subconscious flow to deftly interweave so many human variables into such a succinct and happily in this production, well acted and directed monologue.
At 50 Bud’s in a fit of soul searching, but is he demented or just like us? Turning such unsettling dualities on the audience is the province of true playwrights and playwriting was never truer than it is here. As Bud rambles on, he unravels high and low lights of his twenty-one year marriage to arthritic, ten year senior, farm owning Myra, the deadening affects of gossip and mental chatter, dulling brushes with ‘progress’ in the guise of toff promoting Lady of the Manor and that mystery man who’s ‘walked straight down a ley-line and allegedly wants nothing more but to build a shed at the its’ end, far from mankind.
The fact that eggs are Bud’s ‘province’ within the context of his farm owning wife’s world and he feels the need to score them in vast quantities, even from mutant chickens, draws heavily on the notion of Dame Thatcher’s progress for Britain ethos. He is after all, ten years his wife’s junior and thus, possibly, more prone to the drone of the propaganda of his time. Then, there is the pressure of Myra’s inherited ‘collateral’ and a man’s need to achieve. A poet once said most long marriages are ‘embattled’ and the unseen woman Myra and her ‘better’ seek to beat men at their own game. Bud may seem of its time when considered in that light, but on freer association, it’s right in line with today’s ‘children of Thatcher’, property is power, no matter how it’s acquired, media/gov. encouraged ways of thinking.
Those who knew him or know of Cornish playwright Nick Darke (1948 – 2005) from the compelling documentaries about him, The Wrecking Season and posthumously released The Art of Catching Lobsters know he was an indisputably free spirit – a maverick capable of turning his visions into realities. Cases in point: the wooden home Darke once built and lived in with his wife and children on a farmer’s land, his 27 plays written in 28 years all of which were produced, the flourishing friendships oft forged over long distances on his return to Cornwall in 1990 following the stroke which had, tidally, brought him back to the ‘wrecking’ aka beachcombing life of his boyhood.
Actor Neil Sheffield embodies Bud without trapping him in anything other than his own mind, ably gesturing and articulating endearing and demeaning aspects of Myra and the affected nuances of the ‘Lady’ of the Manor in love with gentrifying everything in her path, even the land, and self-romanticizing the lifestyle that got away via the rambling stranger perched on the edge of Myra’s land. Without his seemingly spontaneous focus, this amazingly multi-layered play couldn’t succeed as it does. Thanks to Sheffield and Director Penny Cliff, Bud exceeds all hopes and expectations. It’s a bright spark in fringe theatre’s crown and a bit of gritty polish with the addition of another compressed Darke play, should be all that’s needed to bring it to a successful West End in a similarly intimate space, i.e. the Duchess, Trafalgar Studios or Leicester Square Theatre. Bud is just crying out to be widely appreciated once again!
Lovers of language will be captivated by this play as its’ sharp, one line witticisms wizz by like so many fish flitting by the panes of a glass bottom boat. It’s impossible to capture them all, so allowing them to wash over you is the best option. Sheffield speaks as though from his person, imbuing his lines with bite.
The brick backdrop of the King’s Head Theatre and its small, cavernous space form a fitting frame for Bud’s breakfast table confessions. With only a serviceable Brown Betty and box of cornflakes as witnesses, Sheffield can easily peer into our eyes as he probes his character’s soul, and those inclined to titters in moments of discomfort unwittingly draw attention to themselves as we collectively search the wreckage of our own motivations and inclinations, in hope of finding a Wild Card offering us an out.
It’s been written that Darke’s time has come round again. I couldn’t agree more. Bud is the ‘four legged’ type of theatre we’re in dire need of in the here and now and I eagerly await the re-immergence of more Darke plays. Meanwhile, pen Bud into your diary and get to the King’s Head for some true theatre.
BOX OFFICE: 0207 478 0160
KING'S HEAD THEATRE
115 UPPER STREET
LONDON N1 1QN
Sun. and Mon. at 7:15pm, 3pm matinee Sun.
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