Tom at the Farm

February 8, 2018 | By | 1 Reply More

★★★★☆   Compelling

Bedlam: Wed 7 – Sat 10 Feb 2018
Review by Hugh Simpson

The energy and commitment of Tom at the Farm at the Bedlam are more than enough to overcome some less convincing moments and provide a compellingly dark spectacle.

The EUTC’s production is the British premiere of Quebecois Michel Marc Bouchard’s play, perhaps best known through Xavier Dolan’s film adaptation.

Yann Davies and Tilly Botsford. Pic Mihaela Bodlovic

The Tom of the title is an advertising executive who goes to his unnamed partner’s family home, to attend his partner’s funeral after his sudden death. He soon learns, however, that his partner’s mother Agatha has never heard of him, and is unaware her son was gay. Agatha’s son Francis did know about his brother, but soon lets Tom know in uncertain terms that it would be better for him to conceal the truth.

What starts off as a seemingly realistic depiction of small-town homophobia soon spirals off into a brooding tale of secrets and repression – part psychological thriller, part soap opera, part hyper-stylised Greek tragedy, part something else that is just ineffably weird.



That such a mishmash of styles largely holds together is testament to real theatrical nous on Bouchard’s part. The English version – and its attendant flipping of the French and English-speaking communities – is largely smooth. Linda Gaboriau’s translation is a supple thing, only really falling down in some use of the present tense that never sits as well in English.

Strange Interludes

To be fair, this largely arises during Tom’s peculiar habit of speaking his thoughts aloud in between the dialogue. These Strange Interludes add another level of artifice that Yann Davies (Tom) and director Joe Christie never quite deal with. While they are undoubtedly meant to be jarring, they do need to be reconciled with the action eventually.

Peter Morrison and Tilly Botsford. Pic Mihaela Bodlovic

Christie’s combination of stylisation and naturalism is largely sure-footed, however, and he coaxes performances from the cast that are (with a couple of caveats) very impressive. Davies may be altogether too fresh-faced to entirely embody the more urbane urbanite side of Tom. His portrayal is otherwise compelling, with some difficult emotional shifts handled with a great deal of truth.

Peter Morrison similarly does not always carry off the hulking menace of the conflicted Francis, the horny-handed son of toil capable of ripping a man’s face apart. However, the energy and desperation in his performance hang in the air as strongly as the (somewhat overused) smoke. Admittedly, that smoke does tend to mingle with the audience’s breath on one of those defiantly sub-zero winter evenings at the Bedlam, where hats, coats and multiple layers are an absolute necessity.

Tilly Botsford (Agatha) has that perennially difficult task for a young performer in playing a much older part. We are told that she is losing her mind to age and religion, but that does not quite come across. What is totally successful is the way she inhabits a character riven by grief and confusion.

accomplished

Kathryn Salmond’s Sara is supposedly a much younger character, but if anything appears older than Agatha simply in the way she holds herself on stage. Salmond’s performance is accomplished, however. She overcomes the drawbacks of a character that is dramatically and thematically troublesome (as well as providing real problems with the language switch).

Kathryn Salmond. Pic Mihaela Bodlovic

Iona Tangri’s set is a notable success. It features several discrete acting areas without becoming over-fussy, and makes the Bedlam stage appear far larger than it really is.

Technical manager Elissa Webb also deserves great credit for a beautifully realised production. Huw Jones’s sound design is a particular strong point – although there are a couple of moments where important dialogue is rendered inaudible.

There are things about the narrative that do not quite cohere, not least its odd length. The full length play that does not quite justify an interval may be all the rage now, but here – as so often – there are unavoidable hints that judicious pruning would have made a one-acter of real tautness and tension. Instead, it falls short of greatness, although it will surely be seen in the UK again, and the EUTC deserve credit for staging it.

Running time 1 hour 45 minutes (no interval)
Bedlam Theatre, 11 Bristo Place,, EH1 1EZ
Wednesday 7 – Saturday 10 February 2018
Daily at 7.30 pm.
Information and tickets: https://www.bedlamtheatre.co.uk/shows/tom-at-the-farm.

Bedlam Facebook: @bedlamtheatre.ed
Twitter: @bedlamtheatre.

Read an interview with director Joe Christie here: Joe at the Helm.

The script and film adaptation are available to buy on Amazon:

 
ENDS

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