In his brilliant but flawed debut stage play, Thomas Eccleshare, winner of Soho’s Verity Bargate Award, turns the notion of an environmental disaster on its head. In PASTORAL nature has run amok and it’s humans who find their future is threatened. His vision recalls John Wyndham’s post-apocalyptic novel The Day of the Triffids, but with more laughs along on the way.
An elderly woman, Moll (Ann Calder-Marshall), is alone in her high-rise flat observing people down on the street and waiting for her cat, Winston, to return. When Manz (Hugh Skinner) and then Hardy (Richard Riddell) arrive on her doorstep, Moll thinks she’s being taken on holiday. But strange things are happening outside. Paperchase is infested with voles and there’s a rabbit warren at the bottom of Aldi. Weeds are growing everywhere, trees are bursting through cracks in the pavement and the sighting of a deer strikes fear into Manz’s heart. Then the army moves in, quarantines the block and suddenly it is too late to leave. Moll offers shelter to a couple and their young son Arthur (played by actress Polly Frame).
Eccleshare subverts our expectations by finding humour in this dystopian world and satirising the urbanites’ fear of nature. When Hardy goes hunting for food, he proudly returns with a hedgehog, to everyone dismay. Ocado’s delivery man (Bill Fellows) heroically fights his way through the mayhem to Moll’s flat, minus the shopping, only to come to a sticky end. There are also moments of poignancy such as when Moll and young Arthur share a last cigarette as they are left to fend for themselves. But the play’s ending, involving the arrival of a bedraggled bride (Carrie Rock) dressed in a pink T-shirt and mini-skirt, is disappointing.
Steve Marmion ensures the pace never slackens and Michael Vale’s stunning design features an oak tree that comes crashing into Moll’s flat, and flowers on darts that drop from above. Gradually the walls and floors begin to cave in.
PASTORAL is superbly acted and this is entertaining, engaging and provocative theatre. Eccleshare proves himself a talent to watch and a worthy award-winner.
At Soho Theatre until 8 June