Design and text collide with sparkling invention in Lies Pauwels’ sensual new production for the NTS of David Harrower’s breakthrough play of 1995. Against the dark and meaning-laden language, Chloe Lamford’s fairground sideshow design and Pauwels’ thrusting direction create a separate visual layer of narrative.
If the overall result is at times confusing and Pauwels’ use of microphones strangely retro, the heart of the matter beats strong. Susan Vidler is immense as the unnamed ploughman’s wife, caught between her husband and the village miller. Her hatred of the Miller is tempered by his articulacy and ability to write, while her faithfulness to her husband is destroyed by his own love of his horses.
On whatever level, this is the fight between stasis and action, agrarian peace and industrial might, superstition and science. Duncan Anderson is strong and potent as the Ploughman, chasing, capturing and taming both his wife and dancer Vicki Manderson’s creation of a composite foal/village girl. Owen Whitelaw’s stuttering Miller is never an attractive character, an outsider whose power comes from his ability to manipulate not his innate strength.
With a soundtrack that cuts from pulsating rock to vibrant Italian partisan anthem by way of Petula Clark, Bach and Piaf, the carney wheels turn, dust clouds up from a gymnasium horse and Vidler’s character explores the sartorial limits of her sexuality. This at times appears to be over-complex. Ultimately, however, it is a thoroughly satisfying and intriguing reinterpretation of a modern Scottish classic.