Having read the advisory notes before attending this evening’s performance of “Village Idiot”, written by Samson Hawkins, I have to say that I am excitedly apprehensive about watching a new play which “contains very strong language and discusses themes and uses language some may find upsetting relating to class, race, ethnicity, sexuality, sex, gender identity and disability.” In fact, I was told that if you are easily offended, please don’t attend. As a “Book of Mormon” fan, I guessed I’d be ok…
This is a spectacular piece of theatre! It is brave, it is audacious, it is hysterically funny, it is sentimental, it is political. For me, this show is a f*****g winner!
Set in a mid-sized village in Northamptonshire, the Honeybones and the Mahoneys are being unceremoniously ousted from their rural homes to enable the now ill-fated HS2 to have a line that runs straight to London. Barbara Honeybone (Eileen Nicholas) hates Kevin Mahoney (Mark Benton) – he’s a pikey who doesn’t belong. Kevin isn’t the biggest fan of Barbara’s grandson Peter (Philip Labey), he’s abandoned his roots and is working for HS2! But it’s not all feuding families as love, adoration and acceptance also run as a thread through the entire play. Productions that put relationships and the fragility of the human condition are always favourites of mine, but add in a dialogue that is 50% swearing and insult, and you have a hyperbolic yet realistic depiction of the joy and pain of modern living, where getting to London faster is more important than heart and community.
The set (Lily Arnold) is an idyllic woodland scene where the beauty of nature is exalted. Inside scenes are set outside with furniture placed amongst the trees but towards the end, there is an unexpected mysticism in the set as it becomes ethereal, largely thanks to the stunning lighting (Richard Howell) and costume design (Lily Arnold).
The play is a series of vignettes punctuated by the final village show which is played out in front of the curtain to allow for slight set changes behind the curtain. In these, characters break the fourth wall as they invite us to be part of the Syresham Community and whether it’s a Vegan-oria sponge winning the cake competition or a Cher drag performance or a hooded posse rapping to grime, these invitations into village life bring lots of laughs.
Even though we never see further than the delightful piece of woodland on stage, we feel like one of the villagers of Syresham; it’s as if we’ve known Barbara Honeybone all of our lives…or perhaps it’s because we know someone like her. All of the characters are loosely based on the writer’s own life and experiences which adds a sense of realism to the play. I don’t know why it makes it funnier that an older lady, who is ready to head into a care home, swears like a trooper, but it does. Barbara has a potty mouth, and she just doesn’t care who hears it, who she offends or who she outs. She is single minded in her attitude, determined and gregarious. Nicholas absolutely excels in her portrayal of Barbara – she gives her dignity and she gives her strength. Mark Benton’s portrayal of Kevin is so natural and his connection with Faye Wiggan who plays his daughter Debbie, is beautiful. All of the characters are lost in their own way as their home is being torn away, but the way in which Kevin lets both his son and daughter fly free is uplifting and soul affirming.
One of the joys of this production is its inclusivity. All shows are captioned and I can’t help but notice the chillout space signposted during the interval. Faye Wiggan (Debbie) and Maximillian Fairley (Harry) are part of the Ramps on the Moon initiative which aims to put deaf and disabled artists and audiences at the centre of their artistic work. Both of these performers absolutely excel tonight. Fairly has spot on comic timing and Wiggan has endeared herself to the audience through her portrayal of Faye, who has a zest for living her own life and getting her own freedoms. I think I can say with certainty that the audience are rooting for the “Har-bie” relationship tonight.
This is one of those unforgettable plays that will stay with me for a long time to come. Director Nadia Fall has envisioned something that speaks to an audience on a visceral level. This production is not just about insult and humour, it has sentiment and heart too. Even in our frailty, we are powerful too!
“Village Idiot” will be leaving audiences agog at The Playhouse until Saturday 25th March. It’s one to watch.
“If I were an animal there would be legislation to protect my home, but because I’m just a bloody human they can do whatever the f**k they like.”