BARNEY Norris is fast making a name for himself as the playwright to watch, and his latest work, Eventide, stopped at Salisbury Playhouse’s Salberg Studio before its final performances at Bristol’s Tobacco Factory.
Barney met Alice Hamilton in a youth theatre group and together they formed Up in Arms Theatre, a south- west based company which has already toured two of Barney’s remarkable plays. After the success of Visitors in 2014, Eventide cements his reputation.
Set on the decking terrace of a village pub, it starts on the last day of John’s tenure as landlord. His former wife has demanded half the proceeds of the sale as part of the divorce settlement, and he’s off to he knows not where.
His departure co-incides with the funeral of a local girl, killed when her car collided with the village war memorial. And Mark, the boy who loved her, has been contracted by the local council to repair the memorial, on the day of the funeral.
A year later, and Mark is about to marry. John returns for the wedding, and both again meet the lonely travelling church organist who played for the funeral and now is playing for the nuptials.
Barney Norris, (pictured right) still in his 20s, says the writer’s job is to document cultures before they disappear, and both Visitors and Eventide are firmly set in the English countryside. John, brilliantly captured by television favourite James Doherty, is the life and soul of the party, a man with a smutty joke that doesn’t offend, a ready ear, a keen eye and the sadness that is so often at the heart of the clown.
Ellie Piercy’s Liz is also sad, bearing the burden of a lost husband along with the sheet music in her case. Her organ playing is more passion than skill, and she has to drive miles to get a gig, even on a wheezy old village instrument.
Her “relationship” with John is brittle, tentative and painful … doomed in its frustration and fear.
Mark (Hasan Dixon) is a man on a journey, but not the fulfillment of youthful dreams but a sell-out, taking a job as the under-manager of “John’s” pub, working for an anonymous national company and forced to live in Swindon and commute to work.
This is a familiar story, of the loss of country community, threats to pubs, churches and ways of life. By the time the gauche Mark of the war memorial repairs is meeting his bride at the alter, his life is controlled by a smartphone.
But life goes on.
Directed by Alice Hamilton, Eventide is perfectly observed in all its complex layers, performed by a trio of actors whose proximity to their audiences in these studio spaces brings a sometimes painful degree of voyeurism.
Don’t miss the chance to see Eventide in Bristol, where it runs until 14th November.