Lands at Bush Theatre
Two obsessive-compulsives are the focus of this surreal performance about relationships in Lands, directed by Jaz Woodcock-Stewart. Sophie (Sophie Steer) cannot stop jumping on a trampoline and Leah (Leah Brotherhead) is fixated on a jigsaw puzzle – activities symbolising the walls they maintain against intimacy and mutual understanding. That the nature of their connection is unclear highlights the essential ambiguity of human relationships.
Reminiscent of a Twilight Zone episode, everything is mysterious and disconnected: we don’t know if the women are at home or in a mental institution. As such, with no background details or context, the piece ingeniously strips away all but activity, emotion and psychology.
Representing our existential aloneness, our reluctance to risk our vulnerability and our fear of breaking down the barriers that separate us, the trampoline and jigsaw puzzle signify disparate worlds. Leah is baffled by Sophie’s bouncing addiction and Sophie is likewise clueless about Leah’s puzzle mania.
Steer’s physical energy galvanises while Brotherhead’s mental efforts and emotional intensity create a contrast in realities. Humour keeps their interactions interesting, even while their disparities remain undetermined. Though throughout Leah tries every method to persuade Sophie to stop jumping, her intolerance of it is clearly projection, emphasising her blindness to the fact that she is exactly like Sophie. Meanwhile, her pseudo-sexual description via microphone of individual puzzle pieces makes evident her repressed frustration, which she escapes through excessive analysis. For comic relief, there are moments of irrational dancing to Motown ballads, adding a Brechtian distance effect via the flight-of-fancy quality of musical theatre.
Although the concept of the work is simple, the narrative is surprisingly intriguing, thought-provoking and at times disturbing. With excellent writing and acting, a simple effective set and strategically efficacious lighting, the play is remarkably well-conceived. Lands is a smart and clever mind-bender, while also funny, joyful and entertaining.
Photo: Helen Murray
Lands is at Bush Theatre from 6th November until 1st December 2018. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.