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The Theatreguide.London Review

Lands
Bush Theatre   Autumn 2018

Near the end of this eighty-minute play from the company called Antler one of the two characters goes into an extended rant, not at the other but at the audience. 

I don't care, she shouts, that you're lonely, that your dog died,. . . or several dozen other things. I don't care about the Holocaust, your wart, fracking, . . . and on and on. 

The sad revelation of the play is that none of us can really empathise or sympathise with each other, not because we are evil or inadequate people, but because we've all got problems of our own that inescapably have a much higher claim on our attention. 

Leah and Sophie (played, respectively, by Leah Brotherhead and Sophie Steer, who are credited with director Jaz Woodcock-Stewart as writers) share a living space. But each is entirely wrapped up in her own obsessions and rituals. 

Leah focuses intensely on her jigsaw puzzle, methodically examining and logging each piece as she picks it up, while on the other side of the stage Sophie bounces compulsively on her small exercise trampoline. 

When Leah complains about the noise, Sophie admits that some mental or emotional block prevents her from stopping. Leah first tries to help her and then just forces her off, and in retaliation Sophie breaks up the jigsaw puzzle. 

Both startled and frightened by their violence, the women try to come together and show some sympathy for each other, but soon they are back to their separate rituals, leading to the outburst mentioned at the start of this review. (The title alludes ironically to 'This land is your land,' Woody Guthrie's anthem to unity and shared experience.) 

Much of the strength and evocative power of the play comes from its specificity – except for the rant at the end there is no overt attempt to generalise from the tensions between two women in the same room, allowing the audience to sense the larger issues. 

And much comes from the intensity and specificity of the two performances. As a purely technical exercise, Sophie Steer spends almost the entire eighty minutes bouncing on her trampoline, while Leah Brotherhead must sustain the unbroken intensity of obsession bordering on madness. 

The two actresses lean on and support each other in creating a reality and a connection between the two characters even while letting us discover how isolated and alone each is. 

Lands is that rare theatrical event, the play that is exactly the right length, giving the audience enough time to absorb what it is saying without lingering on to dissipate its effectiveness.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Lands - Bush Theatre 2018

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