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In A Land Much Like Ours

5 starsReviewed by Richard Stamp
Underground Venues
9 Jul 8:45pm to 9:50pm, 10-11 Jul 6pm to 7:05pm, 15 Jul 8:45pm to 9:50pm, 20 Jul 6pm to 7:05pm

“He who fights monsters must take care, that he doesn’t become a monster himself.” You won’t often find me quoting Nietzsche, but there’s no better way to summarise this dark and stylish play – which tells the tales both of a fantastical battle, and of a self-defeating struggle against the monstrous injustices of our real world. With a finely-tooled script and some superlative low-key acting, In A Land Much Like Ours is a must-see of this year’s Fringe.

Following the senseless killing of their bubbly young daughter, a well-meaning and loving couple find themselves growing inexorably apart.  David, the rationalist, is searching for answers, while Jane thinks the tragedy can never be explained.  Jane exhorts her husband to stop trying to think and simply surrender to feeling, but David either can’t or won't let go.  Your own outlook on life will determine where your sympathies lie, but the script is commendably even-handed: each of the bereaved parents is coping with loss in a way that makes sense to them, yet they are tragically unable to reach out and support each other.

Laura Lindsay and Andrew Roberts-Palmer play their roles with an understated dignity, pitching their grief perfectly to the intimate space they’re performing in.  Right at the start, a look of mild surprise from Roberts-Palmer was enough to tell me that something devastating had just occurred; and both actors continue in a similar style, with a power born of quietness rather than of rage.  Cleverly, as time goes on, their mental state’s reflected by changes to their dress.  The once-smart David grows slowly shabbier, while Jane, now in the ascendant, is the one to don a suit.

Intercut with this painfully realistic story, a third actor – Adam Urey – tells a separate, darkly menacing fairytale.  In the eponymous land much like ours, a hero called Jack slays a mighty giant… but finds, in his moment of triumph, that there’s a terrible price to be paid.  Urey is a mesmerising storyteller, a modern-day bard in woolly hat and scuffed boots, and playwright Rob Johnston’s lyrical language flows readily from his mouth.  Jack’s tale dovetails subtly with Jane and David’s, drawing out delicate parallels with the psychology of their grief – cleverly offering a commentary on the main story, as well as providing plentiful food for thought on its own.

The ending, I have to suggest, is annoyingly redemptive, but what impresses me most about the script is the things it doesn’t say.  Johnston doesn’t labour the details of the murder, or dwell on the caprice of heartless Fate; instead he provides a wealth of poignant details, and leaves it to his audience to fill the big picture in.  This is a truly moving piece of theatre, performed by a note-perfect cast.  We’re privileged to enjoy such breadth of talent, in a land such as ours.

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These are archived reviews of shows from Buxton 2013.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to performers, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.