Angus the farmer cuts some bread painstakingly into sandwiches and two thoughts emerge – the bread looks delicious, and this might be an odd, quirky curiosity of a play about 1970s farm life in Canada. Not so. The gentle pace of rural life that opens the scene is deceptive, building up to an at-times gripping crescendo of tragedy, madness, trauma and the question of truth and lies.
Story layers get peeled off as the audience becomes complicit in the experience of truth revealing itself as lies. Angus (John Bett), for example, is not a doddery, spaced-out farmer, but the victim of a freak World War II accident that ravaged his memory. He lives with Morgan (Neil McCaul), a tough-as-old-boots, no nonsense type.
The two agree to host Miles (Simon Lee Philips), a struggling, wide-eyed young actor observing farm life initially, before discovering the histories of the two hosts hold deeper, darker mysteries for his play material. The dynamics and relationships on this small stage work excellently, with each character wholly different and believable in their skin. Farm life, with its practical and unromantic realities, from routine shoving of hay bales in piles to Daisy the farm cow, who ends up in the farmers’ sandwiches, contrasts with the emotive, personal tragedies which unravel.
Ultimately the play’s ‘theme’ is about the power of acting to convey truth. It is itself based on the true story of a group of actors in the ’70s, who, riding on the coat tails of Europe’s fetish in 1960s theatre for ‘from life’ acting, visited a farm for a play. Stories and life interweave. Simon’s Hamlet rendition emerges in emblems such as his actor’s notes pocket-book and Angus wandering in his white long johns like a mad ancient Hamlet, his stockings all awry.
This is more than a sleepy story about a couple of doddery and tough old farmers. The setting makes the journey of revelation and tragedy all the more powerful.