When I arrived at The Bike Shed Theatre to see this two-man show by Pentabus Theatre Company and Salisbury Playhouse, I was expecting to spend the next 1 hour 45 minutes watching an almost educational narrative about the fracking industry (not something that exactly excited me). My expectations couldn’t have been more misguided.
Siân Owen’s production follows a struggling young couple, Bea (Rosie Armstrong) and Joseph (Harry Long), in the present day, who are reaching the ‘autumn’ of their marriage. Their childhood romance has been brought to a halt when a fracking company gets permission to drill for gas in a field in their village which held a lifetime of memories for them. It is with each day of drilling, the deafening sounds and blinding lights (which the audience were also subjected to), that their relationship begins to fall steadily to pieces. The dynamic between the couple begins almost humorously, with Bea’s ‘dreamer’ attitude clashing with the stoic nature of Joseph, and the couple bounce off each other to create a warm on-stage atmosphere. However, as the play progresses and the lights from the fracking grow stronger, this warmth dissipates and the audience is left feeling empty as the couple grow exceedingly distant.
tHEIR RELATIONSHIP BEGINS TO FALL STEADILY TO PIECES
The play focuses on the theme of the ‘underground’, flicking through past and present to explore each layer of what has been buried in the couple’s back garden. Owen explores the layers’ plague-ridden bodies from the dark age, crops harvested using the first ploughs, and the ring buried by Bea’s own grandmother after the death of her husband in the Second World War. All of these memories are situated in a single patch of the couples back garden, evoking the literal meaning of the term ‘in your own backyard’, and the unknown that we live upon. The play exposes the more important themes of our treatment of the environment, all of the energy and gas that we use up without a second thought to where it all comes from and who that process affects. The play seems to scream in the face of the viewer, asking them the questions that Bea struggles to find an answer for her two-year-old son. What makes up the ground beneath our feet? How much do we take the past for granted?
Only at the end of the production does the narrative flick into the future, where the HD televisions and iPhone 6’s are shown as alien artefacts, showing the audience how fleeting our present time is, and how we shouldn’t take anything for granted. The play concludes rather suddenly, with Bea’s revolutionary words which seem to speak directly to the audience, urging them to take their future and environment into their own hands.
The final message of the play seemed to say that the world is filled with environmental issues, and simply because it is hidden behind a closed door does not mean that people aren’t being affected by it. Seemingly, This Land was a slap in the face for the audience, embedding key environmental issues into an identifiable young couple’s life, and challenging the audience’s selfish idealism of caring only for what they themselves witness.
The final performance of This Land is at The Bike Shed Theatre tonight. Tickets can be booked on the Bike Shed website.