Theatre Royal Stratford East – until 6 May 2023
While it could do with less swearing and some of the humour could be a little bit more sophisticated, this is ultimately a heartwarming and passionate production.
Originally commissioned by Nottingham Playhouse, this Ramps on the Moon production is filled with crude humour and silliness that can undermine the impact of the seriousness of the message it is trying to get across but it also has plenty of heartwarming moments that shows the bond between the villagers.
Set in the village of Syresham, the story follows that of the villagers who are being forced to move out of their home due to a new railway line that will be placed through the centre of the village as part of the latest HS2 project. But not all the villagers are happy to leave – in particular Barbara who puts up a strong fight to stay and tries with increasingly manipulative ways to persuade the other villagers to stay as well. Things are a bit more complicated when it becomes clear that her grandson Peter is woking as part of the project and family relationships are pushed to the brink.
While Samson Hawkins’ script is bold, brash and yes in many places offensive in the type of language it uses and feels as though it loses impact as time goes on and becomes increasingly uncomfortable (although there are some genuinely cracking lines that won’t leave you wincing).
However it also features wonderful moments between characters that showcases the unexpected bond between them all that highlights the tragedy that they are being forced to leave the homes that they love. I particularly loved the sweetness between Harry and Debbie that feels the most authentic and well written. It also reinforces ideas how where we live helps to form our identity and views of the world – yet somehow the environmental impact (while occasionally referred to through Liam’s passion of the nature club he runs) of HS2 seems just tacked on at the end in a bizarre sequence that didn’t feel as though it quite fitted in with the tone of the rest of the play.
In many ways, Nadia Fall’s production highlights the fact that the play is a love letter to villages and the people who live in them, which is particularly highlighted in the way in which the framing device of a village talent show, breaking up the show between drama and silliness with an increasingly eccentric acts which also allows the audience to feel in some small part of the village as well. Lily Arnold’s set design feels suitably immersive of the village life keeping the idea of the environmental devastation that lies ahead at the forefront of the story alive, while her animal costumes are wonderfully realised.
The cast all do a splendid job of bringing their characters to life, with Faye Wiggan’s sassy and instantly loveable Debbie being a true standout performance. But she is also well matched with Maximilian Fairley’s charmingly funny performance as Harry. Eileen Nicholas has a real sharpness as the cantankerous (and yes sometimes downright rude) Barbara – really capturing her passion and love for the village even if the way in which she goes about trying to save it in all the wrong ways.
Village Idiot is entertaining in many ways but it does need to tone down the crudeness a tad to make more of an emotional impact – despite the wonderful way in which the characters have been written and the way in which the story has been framed.
By Emma Clarendon
Village Idiot continues to play at the Theatre Royal Stratford East until the 6th May 2023.