Further than the Furthest Thing at the Young Vic
An enticing tale of capitalism and community, Further than the Furthest Thing was inspired by writer Zinnie Harris’s mother’s memories of living on the volcanic island of Tristan da Cunha. The play premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe back in 1999; now, more than two decades later, Jennifer Tang directs its first major revival.
Cut off from the outside world, a group of islanders have lived happily undisturbed for centuries. The inhabitants repel modernity, forming a deep bond with their land. When an outsider is invited by one of their own and the volcano erupts, their long-established way of life is altered indefinitely. The play questions human values and examines how far one might go to protect and honour them.
Tang opts for an in-the-round configuration, immediately conjuring a sense of community. With the audience encroaching on the island, a degree of claustrophobia envelopes the auditorium: the outside world is moving in on this unspoilt land. The set is simple, with Prema Mehta’s inspired lighting design providing most of the visuals. Aside from that, Tang allows the lyrical script to shine. The text is respected, although one feels more could have been done to inject a fresher contemporary take on the material.
Jenna Russell captivates as Aunt Mill, who anchors the play. Serving as a voice for her people, the character conceals an astute intellect beneath an apparently simple façade. An early scene, in which she refuses to listen to visiting businessman Mr Hansen (Gerald Kyd) until he’s eaten an egg, cleverly establishes her character. At the same time, it symbolises her and the island’s fragility at the hands of the outside world. Such imagery is littered throughout the two-hour play, which brims with thought-provoking notions but at times meanders a little too much. Attention unfortunately wanes. The assured cast work hard to sustain our engagement, although they are constantly against the tide of a production weighed down by its many ideas.
Russell enjoys convincing chemistry with Cyril Nri as her husband, Bill, a Christian minister. Nri captures the conflicting complexities of a character who betrays his own faith to do what he believes is necessary to maintain the serenity of island life. Archie Madekwe impresses as nephew Francis, with Kirsty Rider completing the cast as his love interest, Rebecca. They all do a stellar job, despite some roles being more thinly drawn than others.
The pace ebbs and flows gently, at times becoming somewhat stilted and drawn-out. This is a safe version of Harris’s play, which competently captures the commentaries of the work. With the world being a very different place to when it premiered, however, one cannot help but feel its themes could have been further dredged.
Photo: Marc Brenner
Further than the Furthest Thing is at the Young Vic from 9th March until 29th April 2023. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.