Blackthorn @ West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds – ‘a play based on hard realism’
Blackthorn by Charley Miles, is a play about two children who grow up together and become sweet hearts. Set in a small North Yorkshire village, we watch as the two protagonists talk us through their lives. Throughout the play, we learn that both characters come from a farming background. He, played by Harry Egan, stays on in the village and drops out of school, She, played by Charlotte Bate, goes away to grow up.
Blackthorn is a stylised piece, with the combination of contemporary dance and theatre. The opening starts with the protagonists as young adults. We are introduced to them energetically running, leaping and jumping off a large block in the middle of the stage. After which, they lay exhausted on the block. They start daydreaming, He about going off to sea and coming back as a pirate, She about birth and playing mummy’s and daddy’s. They kiss and he runs off stage.
Each time there is a break in the play it is filled with highly, energetic, contemporary dance which makes a break and introduces the next scene. Each time the boy and girl come back, they are older and wiser.
There is a political subtext around farming and the current climate farmers find themselves in. He still works his father’s farm, while She having gone away, explains, ‘the Government sucked the joy out of farming.’ And therefore, ‘farming isn’t what it should be.’/’Not with dairy prices anymore.’ Not with supermarkets dictating the price of milk and it being pointed out, ‘Tories drink milk too.’
The play is based on hard realism. He goes to the back of the stage and imitates urinating, they both emulate smoking and onomatopoeic language and the sound exposes the hardship of agriculture and animal husbandry. As with the author Chekhov, happenings can be referred to off stage as in The Seagull when the gun fires off stage. In Blackthorn a wedding is going on off stage, while the protagonists talk and inform the audience.
The humour is naïve but works. They talk about what a wedding is about and he says, ‘Something happens with you lot. I mean weddings.’ ‘I imagine it’s wanting to dress up like a fucking fairy.’ Another time he mentions getting charged for speeding on the road outside the farm. The funny part is that he was in a tractor when it happened.
In another section, there is the sound of bees and the mention that conservationism of ‘the English honey bee is endangered.’ The play is about growth. How two people grow when one goes away and one stays behind. Rural verses agricultural. How the village has outgrown itself. How, staying in farming would mean both him and her working together jointly. He has no money and she is left her father’s farm in his will.
What the play does is make the onlooker realise, we are running out of everything, including burial sites. She says, ‘there’s no more space in the graveyard. There’s nowhere for us to die.’
Reviewed by Jane Austwick on 17th September at West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds.