Last Among the Long Grass
ADC, Wednesday 8th-Sat 11th May, 11pm
This new piece of writing by Freddie Crossley is set in the build-up to the Spanish Civil War, though you’d be forgiven for overlooking this, as Crossley’s concerns are more domestic, leaving the political drama to unfold offstage. Anna (Kay Dent) and George (Pete Skidmore) are a British couple living in the Andalucian countryside; she types endlessly away at a gardening book while he goes into the village and occasionally plays the piano which takes a central place in the staging of directors Helena Middleton and Emma Wilkinson. Trapped in the house by the heat and by her total ignorance of the Spanish language, Anna’s isolation isn’t helped by her distant and generally useless husband, a model of old-school British restraint, acting as if nothing is wrong even as Anna’s mental wellbeing starts to deteriorate.
Last Among the Long Grass resists easy analysis, but if it is ‘about’ anything it is perhaps about miscommunication. In the opening sequence, Anna and George go about their mundane tasks in a solemn silence punctuated only by the odd trivial remark (‘Orange? Apple? Fruit?’) that invariably goes unregistered by the other. Placed at opposite ends of the stage, the literal distance between husband and wife reflects the sheer emptiness of their conversation, the hollowness of a relationship which doesn’t enjoy a single intimate moment in the play. Anna can’t understand a word the locals say, and those of us in the audience without the necessary Spanish skills can make similarly little sense of the radio news bulletins. Add to this the suspicion that certain characters may be figments of imagination, and the result is somewhat alienating.
Kay Dent captures the repressed, buttoned-up side of Anna with ease. Especially amusing is the sight of her eagerly reciting from her work in progress, only to deflate when she realises her puns aren’t quite as effective as she had hoped. Pete Skidmore is given less to do but delivers a solid performance as the ‘stand-offish’ George, while the cast is filled out by competent turns from Emily Dance and Aydan Greatrick. The actor who gets the rawest deal is Kim Jarvis, who does an admirable job with the part of Anna’s mother, Deidre. Forcing George to bow and scrape for her and complaining of the ‘gobbledygook’ spoken by the locals, Deidre hinges between two stereotypes, the nightmare in-law and the ghastly Brit abroad. Her unexpected proficiency in painting, however, provides the night’s biggest laugh.
Crossley’s play is undoubtedly full of ideas. The way the locals are used, for example, is inspired: appearing in the blink of an eye, their carefree vibrancy powerfully underlines the joylessness of Anna’s life. The writing also shows a talent for realistic dialogue, focusing as it does on the trivial aspects of George and Anna’s domestic existence. This, however, isn’t enough to eliminate the nagging sense that Last Among the Long Grass can’t decide what it wants to be. Generally taking a naturalistic approach, its haphazard stylistic forays (for example, a spontaneous dance sequence) feel underdeveloped. Perhaps the directors’ vision needs greater clarity for these experimental moments to convince. Having endured so much British restraint, the audience is by the second half desperate for the play to break loose; the dramatic pay-off never quite materialises, but at least we had an intriguing journey along the way.