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Eventide at the Arcola Theatre – ‘subtle and layered’

James Doherty in Eventide at the Arcola Theatre. Photo: Mark Douet James Doherty in Eventide at the Arcola Theatre. Photo: Mark Douet

Barney Norris’s follow up to the award-winning Visitors is not quite as wrenching as its predecessor, but it’s still an elegant and moving piece of writing, well crafted, subtle and layered, a play full of ache.

It’s set in the back yard of a Hampshire pub, one of those anonymous decked spaces given over to smokers. All of the three characters – James Doherty, as pub landlord John, a man who likes a drink and a joke, church organist, Liz and local lad, Mark – are yearning for things they cannot have. All of them, in one way or another, have lost someone.

Director Alice Hamilton has drawn some intricate performances from the cast; Doherty is particularly impressive as a melancholic and complex man, but all three cast members do impeccable work and seem to completely grasp the material and what it calls for. There’s eloquence in each tiny twitch of the lip, each little facial flicker – there’s not a gesture here which is unconsidered.

The political undercurrents of the play are also hard to ignore; Norris speaks expressively about changes in farming, about social erosion and the loss of the village pub as the heart of a community. The play is, on one level, an exercise in visibility – telling stories that don’t often get told, of country pubs and the people who staff them – but it’s more than that, a quietly elegiac piece of writing, a portrait of a fenced-in everyday world which is elevated by three beautifully calibrated performances.

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Barney Norris's new play is a gentle and moving piece of writing, a study of life's losses, a hymn