The Red Soil
CHLOE COLEMAN and LEYLA HAMID give this the green light.
Corpus Playroom, 7pm, £5/6
Dir. Helena Middleton
Welcome to Texas. You have to use your imagination a bit, but the accents make it clear that you’re sure ain’t in Cambridge no more. If at first the stereotypical accents had us slightly cringing, the actors seemed to relax into them, and as a result, we did too.
In fact, you could say the play is a ‘grower’. After a slightly shaky start (where the audience weren’t quite sure whether it had begun), we were transported to a 1980s Texan ranch, slap-bang in the middle of a family feud that promises to escalate quickly. And escalate it does.
Having turned the corner from an awkward family reunion to a full scale thriller, the play descends into a much darker realm. In the midst of a brotherly struggle for dominance, we get an unsettling insight into the long-lasting effects of a tumultuous childhood and an adolescence plagued by the Vietnam War. Integrated contextual references, like Gabriela the Mexican ‘wetback’ and the psychological damage of 20th century warfare, anchor the play in its time. But the play’s poignancy lies in the universal theme of familial disputes.
Fairly innocuous conversation around the rustic kitchen table becomes full-blown fisticuffs that leave us reeling, and the emotional rollercoaster is topped off by an impressively sombre Virgilian monologue from Michael Cotton, which goes on to fuel one of the few, but perfectly executed, moments of humour. This provides a welcome relief from the increasingly sinister atmosphere, and Marcus Martin should be commended for a performance that balances psychopathy and threatening arrogance. Seeming totally at ease in a clearly challenging role, Martin is chillingly convincing, and the Playroom allowed him to make his menacing presence particularly palpable.
The rest of the small cast doesn’t disappoint. Each member displayed absolute loyalty to their characters, without resorting to stereotype, and as a result the audience remained attentive and sympathetic throughout. The only thing that marred the building tension was the unnecessary interval. The sudden switching on of the lights brought us blinking back to reality, and it took a while for the intense atmosphere to be regained.
Overall, The Red Soil is a fantastically executed and well-written play that undoubtedly deserved a larger audience than it received on its opening night. If you’re looking for a relentless exploration of family rivalry that’s pushed to the limit, this is the play for you.