The Winterling

Thu 1st – Sat 17th August 2013

reviews

Patty McCabe

at 08:04 on 12th Aug 2013

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London gangs…in Dartmoor? Don’t let this rather strange pairing put you off UCLU Runaground’s production of Olivier award-winning Jez Butterworth’s lesser known play, ‘The Winterling.’ With helpings of dark humour, batty characters, and a narrative that confuses and intrigues, ‘The Winterling’ was a faultless production and should be on anyone’s list at this year’s Fringe.

Immediately, the audience are treated to a cacophony: metallic crashings and bangings assaulted us in the pitch black and then…Cows? Sheep? The stage appeared to be an appallingly-kept living room, peopled with both witless locals and re-located London gangsters. West (Eoin Bentwick) appears on stage crying out for Dolly to come and have her ‘din dins’ – so far nothing appears to make sense.

Things become clearer after the entrance of Wally (Rob Beale) and Patsy (Dan Rodgers). The relationship between the characters suggested by the awkwardness, the guardedness, the fast speech, that Wally and West seem to spit at each other through tensed jaws and craned necks, all hint that there is something much darker a-foot. The exchange between Patsy and West about an iron-age fort that appears to dominate the landscape escalates into a nosebleed on Patsy’s part and it becomes clear that there is a far more sinister element to this little history lesson.

In all the cast, every single muscle assumed the part of their character. Skipping between the past and the present, West has essentially two roles to play. Unlike the self-assured, screw-loose gangster in the first scene, his character in the second scene is a broken man, shivering and shaking and incapable of finishing sentences. Yet, it is testament to Bentwick that he is recognizably the same character in both. Wally also possessed clear physical habits: constantly craning his neck and circling his tongue round his mouth. Hannah Barker as Lue was superb; her voice and body were constantly quivering and shaking, and her physical presence appeared to have a touching effect on both West and Patsy.

UCLU Runaground’s production was nothing short of perfect. The cast thrashed their way through a far-from-simple script with terrifying brilliance, never letting the ball drop for even a fraction of a second. I found myself frantically scribbling notes without looking down so I did not have to miss a single moment of a play that was soaked in lunacy, darkness and hilarity. If you are at the Fringe this year, you must see this production!

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Theodora Hawlin

at 09:23 on 12th Aug 2013

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UCLU Runaground return to Fringe with one of Jez Butterworth’s lesser-known plays, however, under Philippa Douglas’s flawless direction, the ‘tactile vividness’ that Michael Billington identifies in the language of this tale of sacrifice and power-play is brought to wonderful fruition in this cleverly crafted piece.

In the dark we are welcomed by James Melling’s atmospheric audio recordings, submerged under a clamor of gunshots and roaring planes. The noise reaches a resounding crescendo that breaks with the lights, giving way with amusing bathos to the feeble bleats of sheep that set the scene in the recesses of the English countryside in a derelict Dartmoor farmhouse. Butterworth’s physical retreat from the city tracks the emotional retreats of his characters, from gangland fugitive West (Eoin Bentick) to the silent Lue. ‘The Winterling’ of Butterworth’s title remains inconspicuous, yet simultaneously appears within every character. ‘Winterling’ denoting the Devonshire dialectic term for runt, enhances the unsettling dependency of each character on those around them.

New ‘cocky’ recruit Patsy - played exquisitely by Dan Rodgers - manages to dexterously switch between crippling vulnerability as a young boy and a menacing young man with ‘no barriers’. The bedraggled entrance of the (maybe) father-son duo gives way to sinister antagonistic power play, in which West’s commanding presence against his ‘guests’ alerts us to a dangerously territorial nature. The palpability of his apparent control sinisterly realised through orders for both men to remove their trousers. Throughout the first act it’s a struggle to identify who exactly has the upper hand. Butterworth’s play is fragile and the fast paced, often aggressive, dialogue requires confidence. However, the actors manage with ease; Rob Beale as Wally producing sharp and slick conversations that emerge eerily real. The acting is impeccable; lines delivered with grace and gravitas.

Yet, in fact, it’s often when characters are silent that the strength of their performances come into their own. Moments where a weaker cast might have floundered with awkward unease are artfully crafted and among the most powerful moments in the production. Lue’s silence in particular is mastered by Hannah Baker who remarkably tussles with Ben Lewis’s Draycott for our attention throughout their clash on stage, despite not uttering a single word. Every one of the cast is captivating, a glance away from the main action reveals tentative emotion in every face. Bentick, too, is able to loudly convey West’s conflicted mentality towards the end of the play: physically stressed, not a syllable uttered.

Transitions between the three acts are pleasingly professional. The jump to the previous winter, revealing West’s former victimisation, creating a regressive step back in the final act: by the end sacrifice comes full circle.

The Winterling is a superb show. Don’t miss it.

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