REVIEW: Gundog, Royal Court Theatre ✭✭✭✭

Gundog at Royal Court Theatre

Rochenda Sandall, Ria Zmitrowicz in Gundog. Photo: Manuel Harlan

Gundog
Royal Court Theatre
7 February 2018
4 Stars
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Simon Longman’s post Brexit play focuses on sisters  Becky and Anna, shepherds on a farm in the middle of nowhere, trying desperately to hold the family together following the death of their mother. Into their lives comes homeless foreigner Guy, who stays to help them with lambing in return for food and lodgings. He stays for years until their brother, deeply troubled Ben, returns after missing for years. Designer Chloe Lamford’s excellent letter box format set pins the characters in the earth, they are planted in soil and ancestry. It is bleak tale, each year charts the falling apart of the family and the farming industry. We’re not in Borchester anymore.

Gundog at Royal Court Theatre

Rochenda Sandall, Alan Williams, Alex Austin, Ria Zmitrowicz in Gundog. Photo: Manuel Harlan

In Vicky Featherstone’s well paced production, a year passes in the movement of the lights, (design by Lee Curran), and the haunting soundscape of Peter Rice. The cast are rooted in the earthiness and despair of the script. As Becky, the younger sister, Ria Zmitrowicz fires her lines with a confident rattle, perfectly capturing Becky’s arid dry humour, and her despair at the loss of happier times. She is matched by Rochenda Sandall’s Anna, worn down and working all hours just to survive. As Guy, Alec Secareanu follows up his excellent performance in God’s Own Country with another character trapped within the constraints of flight and exile, trying desperately to make sense of the blasted landscape and cautiously finding his place in it. British culture is going to have to release this actor from the mud soon!

Gundog at Royal Court Theatre

Alex Austin, Ria Zmitrowicz in Gundog. Photo: Manuel Harlan

Longman’s structurally clever script takes us back in time upon the return of Alex Austin’s haunted and aggressive Ben, another strong performance. Here we discover that the sisters were rustling sheep as their herd was destroyed by disease, leading to their father’s suicide. Through their Granddad, Mick, a superbly moving portrayal by Alan Williams of a man knowing his mind is falling apart, the characters cling to a golden age of the past, of nights in the pub-even though the pub has been closed down for years, (is the death of the mother the death of Britannia?), as hope gradually wears away like the grass. The silence and loneliness becomes palpable as the play progresses.

Yes it is a bleak play, but the script breaks into the most wonderful, poetic language, particularly from Mick, who delivers a beautiful speech about planting himself in the earth and the sky to protect his family. When Anna repeats it towards the end it’s a haunting moment. Above all, the piece digs deep into the roots of family and memory, and the importance of moving forward, as time will always have somewhere to go.

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