A review by Pauline Flannery for EXTRA! EXTRA!



Camden Fringe Festival



Country Life


by Peter Briffa



Directed by Paul Blinkhorn


George Bernard Shaw Theatre - RADA


2 - 27 August 2011


Peter Briffa’s Country Life plays as part of the Camden Fringe Festival at the George Bernard Shaw Theatre. It’s a slow burner, prompting one audience member to remark ‘that there is not much to hang on to, is there?’ at the interval. Yet in the second half there are more twists and blind alleys than by the waterways of Venice.
The premise is simple: neighbours Jim and Barbara have attended the funeral of Judith. Kenneth tries to get a bonfire going in the garden, and being an ex-policeman, thinks he recognises Jim. The men bristle and the battleground is set as these two vie for the attention of Barbara, who looks after her mother in the idyllic Devon countryside. Yet revelations from the past pick away at all the characters’ seams so that each is not quite what they appear by the end.  

Country Life, with a nod to Ayckbourn, does feel like a study in old age: gardening, cups of tea, slices of cake, employment at B & Q; while death permeates everywhere like John Innes’ mulch. Yet there is energy to the characters which is engaging, particularly Kenneth, played by David Forest, who has some of the best lines: ‘I don’t think she’s seen any action since the Falklands.’ The setting by Aaron J Dootson is suggestive and the play’s outdoor location is enhanced by the brick wall of the theatre itself.

Country Life is a black comedy with death centre stage: it shapes it, and is dissected along a peaceful/ brutal spectrum. There is also blackmail, a heist, and probably murder. Yet nothing is wasted in Briffa’s play. It is an exercise in thrift so that even a dead badger at the beginning is sewn into a thematic line by the end. So that ideas are re-cycled in an exercise in construction. Peter Briffa’s last play Siren – also part of the Camden Fringe Festival in 2010, also directed by Paul Blinkhorn - was about the relationship between a prostitute and her client, the plot runs backwards and here there is a similar structure.

We see a kind of development of this ménage a trois. Though, while Country Life unfolds slowly, its time frame is a little difficult to understand: is this one continuous summer, or is the action over subsequent months, years?  And the end does feel like a car crash as revelation after revelation, accusation and counter-accusation abound; though in retrospect all the clues are there.

Margi Campi does a good job as the eye-catching Barbara, all sparkling eyes and smiles, motherly but not yet ready to give up on life. She is particularly funny as she goes through the litany of the dead at the beginning of the play. David Forest, as the devoted Kenneth, is feisty when he needs to be and hits some dead-pan notes: ‘he’s done some serious porridge.’ Chris Bearne looks the part of aged roué Jim, all silver locks and leather satchel, but sometimes his energy level is too low to fully convince that he might bring, or is a threat. Nonetheless all three clearly enjoy a script where growing old disgracefully is the centre focus.  

Director Paul Blinkhorn works with the slow pace of the piece and there are some wry moments such as when Barbara says of Moira, her mother, that she ‘must be looking down and laughing at me’, while centre stage the photograph of Moira shows exactly that, with Barbara positioned next to her. The soundscape by Simon James Cookson is a crooning counterpoint to the play’s black comedy which adds a further wry tone. Country Life, more plotted cream than butter, is an amusing diversion…..  

GBS Theatre
Theatre Entrance on Malet Street
15 - 20 August, 7 pm
Tickets: £7 - £10

RADA Box Office: 020 7908 4800

CAMDEN FRINGE Box Office: 08444 77 1000


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