Review by Jack Mitchell
“Why do I feel that I’m missing something?”
From the outset, director Danny Ball’s production of Tom at the Farm questions our ability to communicate with others. The play was originally written by Québécois playwright Michel Marc Bouchard in French. In Fixed Foot Productions’ English-language version, translated by Linda Gaboriau, at one point the audience witnesses an English speaker pretending she can only speak French. The character Tom (Zoran Jevtic) speaks to the other characters in the play, but in the same scenes narrates his feelings or what he wishes he could say without the other characters hearing him. The actors often stand on the stage at a fixed distance from each other, their bodies rarely meeting, and a large mirror sits on one of the theatre’s walls, barely acknowledged but adding space to the strange landscape we find ourselves in.
Tom arrives at the family farm of his deceased partner William in order to attend the funeral (it is set in rural Ontario, near the region of Quebec). He is quickly embroiled in a strange family dynamic with his partner’s mother Agatha (Di Adams), and brother Francis (Rory O’Keeffe), who threatens violence if Tom would dare reveal the true nature of his relationship with William. As the relational web intensifies and snowballs with a series of lies, an interloping friend (Sara – Hannah Raven) arrives to pollute things even further.
There were strong performances in this production across the board. Jevtic brought a vulnerability and determination to the role of Tom, with a nice capacity for dry humour slicing through the darkness of the story. Raven’s Sara brought a wonderful disruption to the family dynamic later in the play, with her character’s attempt to speak convincing French providing some real levity. O’Keeffe’s boyish swagger as Francis jarred with his energetic yet controlled menace, proving effectively unnerving as we watched his capacity for spontaneous violence. And Adams as Agatha was convincing in her portrayal of a grief-stricken, confused mother, grounded in her stubborn determination to remember her son a particular way.
Kate Beere’s stripped back wooden set evoked a simple rural setting, and the large mirror in particular worked to haunt the characters’ lives with more figures, hinting at the absent body of William around which the action centres.
Chrysoulla Markoulli’s evocative music and sound design drew heavily on strings, and added a wonderfully haunting layer to the scene transitions. The sounds seemed to hover between instrumentation and voice, which recalled the characters’ struggles to communicate with each other, and the secrets they refused to vocalise.
The physical shape of the production was a real highlight, with Ball keeping the actors on very defined lines in relation to one another. They moved nearer and farther along these lines as if attached by a string, forming morphing geometries as they went. These movements added intrigue and purpose to the already conflicting relationships, the space between the actors drawing attention to what was both said and unsaid throughout.
Bouchard paints a picture of four characters in search of connection, but refuses to grant it, instead slowly unravelling a story of violence, abuse, and deception. The anti-naturalism of some of the dialogue worked against this desire for fulfilment, frustrating the characters’ goals, and ultimately providing for gripping viewing. This is a tightly constructed production whose atmospheric mystery left me wanting more.
Tom at the Farm is playing at KXT until September 10, 2022.
Image Credit: Becky Matthews