Reviewed – 31st May 2019
“amidst a mixed bag in terms of design and script, there lays a five-star performance from Cary Crankson”
At least on the face of it, or on any level I can fathom, Simon Stephens’ ‘Country Music’ is not about country music – much to the disappointment, I presume, of the front row who have all come prepared in their rhinestone cowboy hats. The set (Liam Shea), consisting of a raised platform with ropes pulling tight at its corners – a boxing ring? Or maybe a boat? – is another red herring. Whatever it’s meant to be, it’s unclear.
But beyond this initial confusion is a beautiful ninety minute performance. Cary Crankson plays the part of Jamie with such pain-staking nuance – the slight drawl, almost rhythmic; wide eyes and slow but purposeful movements conveying both psychopathic aggression and boyish sweetness – it’s near impossible to imagine him playing any other role. We follow him over a twenty year span, first as a thuggish eighteen-year-old running away from a violent crime, with fifteen-year-old Lynsey (Rebecca Stone), then ten years later, on his second stint in prison with visiting stepbrother Matty (Dario Coates), and finally as a repentant middle-aged man with a daughter he hardly knows (Frances Knight), before winding back twenty years to a sunny afternoon just before it all went irreversibly wrong.
Plot details are drip-fed organically via casual conversation, leaving the audience to work a little to put the pieces together, but the characters are so well developed, there is the impression that the performers know their parts far beyond what the script alone has given them. The dialogue is perfectly paced, allowing for believable patter – funny silences trying to chew through a sweet, accidentally talking over each other, strained small-talk when it’s clear so much more is going unsaid.
Creative lighting (Benny Goodman) and sound are used almost exclusively between scenes to denote a leap in years – Kid-A-style snippets pair with slowly pulsating yellow lighting, like an old movie projector. The abrupt lack of any distractions during the scenes, in comparison to these poetic passages of time, creates an honest starkness. There are no jazz hands, no light relief, except that which the characters themselves create – a small joke or two, eked out amidst moments of distress and frustration.
All of this added up, however, doesn’t quite make a full plot. Either it should have been a half hour shorter – a perfect tableau of a man’s life – or it needed a second half. There is no excess, and the audience is focussed throughout, but in short, Scott Le Crass’ direction sees a beautiful and heart-breaking portrayal of an unfinished story. That said, amidst a mixed bag in terms of design and script, there lays a five-star performance from Cary Crankson. Whilst his co-stars all fulfil their duties honourably, Crankson’s ability is masterful, taking this production from mediocre to a must-see.
Reviewed by Miriam Sallon
Photography by Bonnie Britain
Omnibus Theatre until 23rd June
Last ten shows reviewed at this venue: