Review – Common at the National:
DC Moore’s Common has all the ingredients of success with a collaboration between Headlong and the National Theatre, direction by Headlong’s Jeremy Herrin (People, Places and Things, This House) and a stellar cast headed by Anne-Marie Duff and Cush Cumbo, but what went wrong?
A painfully muddled narrative, punctuated by mad ramblings and olde English country speak, with a few modern day profanities thrown in for a little shock value or perhaps a couple of laughs, creates a pretentious, unfathomable piece of theatre that left me hollow. It is not often I see such a highly anticipated play to be left so deeply disappointed.
Set in the early 19th-century, in countryside of the pagan past, with a village threatened with enclosure, and social divides of the rich and poor being driven further in the ground by the greed of the pompous local lord (Tim McMullan), who is heartlessly intent on enclosing the common land and has no qualms on hiring in Irish labourers, if they do not agree to his terms. It tells the story of the larger than life Mary (played by the forever compelling Anne-Marie Duff), a powerful seductress and lady of the night, a swaggering con artist and charlatan clairvoyant, who returns to the rural village of her birth from a life in London to reclaim her once love (passionately and convincingly portrayed by Cush Cumbo) and take revenge on her lover’s brother whose incestuous yearnings for his sister have driven a wedge between them both. Not a merry tale, or likely one at that, with a talking crow plus Mary seems to have the power of resurrection and manages to not let death get in her way.
The expansive Olivier stage, is covered in scatterings of earth with vast dark brooding skies, which created an atmospheric scene, Richard Hudson’s imaginative design strikes a cord, as does Paul Constable’s evocative lighting. Stephen Warbecks’s clanking and echoing music, added an ominous edge, as the large ensemble cast trod the boards with naked flames, animal masks and straw headdresses (think Wicker Man) which provided a great backdrop to the barren lands, peasant unrest, ritual murder, animal burials and bitter rivalry, born from deep-rooted jealousy.
However, the story gets lost in the void and I didn’t honestly care who lived or died. Perhaps it’s a symbolic portrait of Britain today, as privatisation takes its hold and the social divide forever grows, whilst the bitter resentments are bubbling over. But will the National public care? The Olivier Theatre is a big space to fill and somehow I don’t think Common will be pulling in the masses this summer.
At the National Theatre, London, until 5 August. Box office: 020-7452 3000.