A streak of pain runs through Simon Stephens’ 2004 play. Taking the form of an elliptical series of duologues, Country Music drops in at 10-year intervals on Jamie, a young man jailed for glassing a man and murdering another. We see his interactions with his teenage girlfriend, his half-brother, and his estranged daughter.
The play emphasises the toll the prison system takes on a man’s psyche and personal relationships. It’s a satisfyingly sinewy piece of writing, an assured and disciplined work that never tips into black and white, but rather relishes the inherent greyness of humanity.
Scott Le Crass’ directorial style matches Stephens’ unfussy writing. It’s quietly confident, never unnecessarily showy, and infused with a sense of Le Crass’ evident love for the play. It’s a production unafraid of purposeful silences, well aware that a pregnant pause can say just as much as a page of a dialogue.
The excellent design is suggestive of a moored, washed-up island, and the projections of black-and-white motorways that frame the transitions emphasise Jamie’s stifled longing for change.
Cary Crankson’s performance as Jamie is flat-out revelatory, by turns frantic, exhausted and heartbreaking. Crankson imbues the 18-year-old Jamie with a louche, boyish charisma, undercut by fits of violent anger. When playing the 40-year-old Jamie speaking to his alienated daughter, Crankson’s portrayal reflects a desperate sense of a system that has ground his character down beyond repair.
It’s an excruciatingly sad piece of work, lifted only by the glimmering possibility of human connection.