Buried Child at Trafalgar Studios
Sam Shepard’s 1978 Pulitzer Prize-winning play Buried Child is the quietly haunting tale of a dysfunctional American family living on an Illinois farm. The playwright implies that they do not really live, but rather await each day in semi-stillness, for fear of upsetting the past and the shaky foundations that their home-life is based on. Director Scott Elliott revives a significant piece that speaks not only of the problematic changes of the time, but of the very crumbling of the American Dream ideal, and thus of hope itself.
Boasting a stellar cast led by five-time Oscar nominee Ed Harris and Amy Madigan, the production also marks the West End debuts of Game of Thrones star Charlotte Hope and Spielberg’s War Horse protagonist Jeremy Irvine. To further guarantee a top quality show there are also Barnaby Kay and Gary Shelford, who each boast countless notable stage appearances.
Dodge (Ed Harris) is a charismatic patriarch shrivelled by his poor health. Unable to stand, his limited mobility has shrunk his life down considerably. A sofa, a television set, a blanket, pills and a bottle of whiskey make up his world. He sneers cynical remarks at his blabbering wife Halie (played by Harris’s real-life wife Madigan) and speaks with a perpetual tone of defiance.
Halie keeps herself busy with trivial pursuits while their two adult sons, Tilden and Bradley, fully embody the deterioration of the family as they mope around the house. One is a halfwit and the other displays signs of mental instability and a violent nature. When Tilden’s young son Vince (Irvine) comes home after a very long absence with girlfriend Shelly (Hope), nobody seems to recognise him. The whole household is traumatised by a tragic event of the past and stunned into denial. It takes the unforgiving gaze of an outsider, Shelly, to make them face their demons.
Despite the fact that Dodge is confined to the sofa, Harris has such magnetism that his presence is felt throughout. He holds the piece together with his weighty interventions and even his silences are eloquent. The cast is a pleasure to watch as each actor adds something to the escalating tension. A dusty, uncared-for living-room is the perfect setting for imparting the gothic undertone of the story.
Solid, intense and satisfying, the production manages to balance drama and comedy while also honouring every detail from Shepard’s text. Admittedly, some passages do come across as forced, but the overall effect is undoubtedly powerful. Not only does Elliott do Sam Shepard justice, but he graces the West End with a fine display of talent.
Photo: Johan Persson
Buried Child is at Trafalgar Studios from 14th November 2016 until 18th February 2017. Book your tickets here.