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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Common
Olivier Theatre  Summer 2017

DC Moore's new play combines an evocation of an England still ruled by remnants of paganism, a lesson in agricultural economics and history, and an individual story of revenge partially thwarted.

It is not particularly successful at any of these threads, making for a long, too often undramatic and too often simply confusing evening. 

Where it does succeed is as a vehicle for Anne-Marie Duff, and it is as an opportunity to watch the magnetic and fascinating actress at work that Common is best enjoyed. 

An early-nineteenth-century farming community faces two crises: the land lies fallow while the local lord makes plans to enclose the traditionally common ground for his use. 

They turn to a pre-Christian faith, and their rituals and sacrifices, with strong overtones of The Wicker Man, create some of the most striking visual pictures in Jeremy Herrin's production and Richard Hudson's design. 

Into this setting comes a woman ejected from the community decades earlier, who became a financially successful London courtesan and now returns for a reunion with her former lover and vengeance against her old enemies. 

But people and times have changed, and it is not easy to tell the good guys from the bad guys any more, so her tactics and her goals have to keep changing.

The old-religion sequences, however impressive visually, never rise above local-colour background, and the historical and economic significance of the enclosure of common land is explained far more fully in programme notes than in the play, so it too never becomes more than incidental. 

And Moore's point about the central character's plot – that she's been away too long and relies too much on coloured memories of what people were like back then, so her simple plans are unrealistic – proves more confusing than insightful, as she has to keep changing her goals, schemes, personality and even name as she tries to achieve some semblance of what she came for. 

And I haven't mentioned the lesbianism, incest, occasional breaking of the fourth wall or talking crow, or the protagonist's discovery that she has psychic powers – all of which just sit there as curious facts, never really developing any resonance or symbolic power. 

Anne-Marie Duff does a remarkable job of holding much of this together, largely through the force of her personality, carrying the character past all the undeveloped background and through the twists and turns of her hard-to-keep-up-with plotting.

It is the actress's evocations of anger, despair and determination, along with her skill with the frequent witty joke and arched eyebrow, that you will be held by and remember more than anything in the character's story. 

Supporting actors Cush Jumbo, Tim McMullan and Lois Chimimba are able to create interesting characters, but most of the other figures in the play are so weakly individualised and barely sketched in that, unless you know and recognise the actors, you will have difficulty remembering who's who.

Gerald Berkowitz

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