EFR - Reviews of God's Own Country

God's Own Country

Fri 1st – Mon 4th August 2014

reviews

Georgina Wilson

at 23:17 on 3rd Aug 2014

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It’s not often that a single man has the capacity to create a community. But, as the audience of the tiny in-the-round studio in Nicolson studio stood to give a rousing standing ovation to Joel Samuels at the glorious end of his one-man show, there was an uplifting and very “Edinburgh” sense of collectiveness in the room.

God’s Own Country is not only the stream of consciousness of a sympathetic if morally warped young farmer in Yorkshire. It is also the fantastic creation of an array of characters, most frequently said farmer and a very middle-class fifteen year old girl, portrayed with delightful accuracy through the tone, vocabulary, and body language of a talented actor. Joel Samuels becomes both of these people, their parents, and a police officer without any of the forced stereotyping so often deployed to portray difference between characters in a one-person show.

Out of a stage of total darkness appears a spotlight, illuminating a black box surrounded by hay. Samuels takes to the stage and talks to us, reports conversations, ponders aloud, and describes with unswerving intimacy a caterpillar inching its way up the thigh of a young girl. It transpires that although Sam Marsdyke (played by Joel Samuels and Kyle Ross on alternative nights) was forced to leave school early under murky circumstances, he retains a remarkably poetic imagination: “the whole of the valley were painted on the back o’ my lids”.

Sam sits on a rock and gazes at the “entwined swans” that are the legs of the fifteen year old girl-next-door. Disillusioned with her “snob”-based life-style she is attracted to Sam, initially the underdog who triumphs over her arrogant boyfriend “all shiny teeth and rugby muscles”. But over the course of many scenes, the divisions which are slick and manufactured by a brief moment of darkness, our sympathy for Sam is questioned, wavers, and finally wiped away altogether with the waves and the police that chase the couple to their newly-found hideout on a beach.

There’s something of Lennie from Mice and Men in the heart-wrenching plot of this production, but also a striking originality both in the in script-writing and acting that creates the protagonist. The interaction of Sam and the girl in a lambing barn late at night produces raw, comic, and searingly honest conversation: “Tupping, is that what you….?” “Sex”. The course of true love never did run smooth.

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Emily Brearley-Bayliss

at 10:51 on 4th Aug 2014

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Let me start by saying that this is one of the few plays that has left me speechless. Completely unexpected and astoundingly involving, it is performed by the most talented actor I have seen so far at this year’s Fringe. This one-man show lets us delve into the shockingly innocent mind of a character who at best is a young man completely bewildered by the world around him, at worst a morally reprehensible rapist and kidnapper.

Adapted from Ross Raisin’s award-winning novel by Fine Mess Theatre, the dramatic monologue by farmer Sam Marsdyke (tonight played by Joel Samuels, who alternates with Kyle Ross for the duration of the run) is no walk in the park. The play begins innocently enough, just like Sam’s intentions with Jo. As he begins to tell his story of the farm, lambing and the girl’s ponytail swishing in the wind, he exudes a childish naivety that is quite literally adorable. His provincial Yorkshire accent, teamed with hilariously spontaneous asides and impressions of the ‘towns,’ endears him to both the audience and his love interest – who we sometimes forget isn’t represented by anyone other than Samuels himself.

With heart-wrenching consequences, Sam fails to grasp when things have gone too far. As he details his horrific actions through an almost Woolf-like stream of consciousness, the audience are left squirming in their seats, as feelings of disgust and sympathy fight for precedence in their minds. I am still not sure which won.

The script is both clever and comic, dark and moving, and the writers must be very highly commended. It accurately portrays the class divide, the mutual judgement and mistrust between the farmers and the town’s people in rural Yorkshire. The society is mocked - but in a completely fresh, unaffected and genuine way that is both hysterically cynical and deeply poignant.

Samuels plays this complex character with sensitivity and subtlety. He completely inhabits his role and masterfully commands the attention of all who are watching, taking them through an absolute roller-coaster of emotions. What makes this play interesting is that we are never given an opportunity to make a moral judgement, but are rather puzzled and astounded that the remaining emotion is one of attachment, on a deep and personal level, to a protagonist who, on paper, should be abhorrent. If nothing else this play forces us to question and re-evaluate everything we think. It completely knocked me for six, and absolutely deserved the standing ovation it achieved.

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