Theatre review – jacaranda by Lorna French at Theatre by the Lake and touring

Pentabus jacaranda, Mara Allen and Stuart Laing Photo Credit Andrew Billington

Theatre by the Lake in Keswick and Pentabus present jacaranda, a new play by Lorna French set in an English rural location – yet bringing in the sounds of the countryside from across the world writes Karen Morley-Chesworth.

Olivia Dudzai is a woman of colour, alone in the wilderness – battered and bloody by the emotional trials of life she is going through. She is confronted by the British white man, Matty Taylor, defending his livelihood from animal rights activists.

Olivia is a vet, new to the village, moving into her late uncle’s farmhouse. Matty is the gamekeeper born and bred into his profession and location.

The drama is 70 minutes with no interval and in that short time, the play covers a tick box of social issues from Covid to stillbirth, child abuse to racism, and at the heart of it the emotional turmoil of how we interpret the words and actions of others which direct our own narrative of our lives.

While the characters are grappling with the internal horrors life has dumped upon them, a metaphor for how they care is played out with the understory of a rare Curlew. They discover the bird and her chicks, fighting to survive after an attack by a fox. There are some beautiful scenes that bring the bird to life, however, there is a lack of reality in the script that a vet and a gamekeeper wouldn’t know what to do in this situation – and it wouldn’t be to find sticks to make a nest.

It may seem frivolous to find this part of the narrative important, but there is a lack of reality about the situation that undermines the main impetus of the play.

The script has Matty ashamed of being a gamekeeper, yet within a rural community, it is a respected profession. It will be interesting to see how this play is received within the very rural area it is touring.

Perhaps this is one of the issues the play is raising, that there is a lack of understanding between rural and urban perceptions in the same way as between sexual orientation and race.

Mara Allen and Stuart Laing give a powerful performance as Olivia and Matty. There is a tension between them that maximises the potential of this play. You can feel the hurt and loss their characters feel. Brilliant performances from both actors.

However, to try to bring to a conclusion the grief of stillbirth and disgust felt from hitting your child within one evening, felt too simplistic for me. There is a challenge to ring the story arc to a close with so many deeply emotional and real issues to navigate within one 70 minute play. 

Theatre that challenges our perceptions of ourselves, our culture and our role in society is to be welcomed, and it is great to see Theatre by the Lake and  Pentabus bringing new work to the stage. 

jacaranda by Lorna French runs until Saturday 13 November at Theatre by the Lake (for more information and to book tickets visit www.theatrebythelake.com) and continues its tour:

  • 16 November Stephen Joseph Threate, Yorkshire,
  • 19 November, Skirwith Village Hall, Cumbria,
  • 20 November, Barningham Village Hall, County Durham,
  • 21 November, Kirkby Stephen Sports & Social Club, Cumbria,
  • 24 November, The Courthouse, Thirsk, Yorkshire.

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