REVIEW: COUNTRY MUSIC (Omnibus Theatre) ★★★★

This early play from award-winning writer Simon Stephens, is revived at the Clapham Omnibus with an outstanding performance from Cary Crankson in the lead role.

The story follows Jamie, a troubled young man from Gravesend, on a bleak journey from 18-year-old joyrider to prison inmate to estranged father. Each scene involves Jamie speaking with a different loved one that challenges his emotional vulnerability, with a decade between each meeting. Slowly, the past events are revealed or hinted at as Jamie tries to come to terms with the consequences of his actions, and the impact he has had on those around him.

Stephen’s script doesn’t have the complex emotional depth of his later work, especially the juggernaut of ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time’, but there is still a quiet efficiency and sensitivity in how his characters are treated. As Jamie has such trouble in expressing his feelings it requires the actor to do most of the communicating without the benefit of a script.

In this regard the play is well serviced by Crankson, who is successful in showing the turmoil bubbling up and overwhelming Jamie. Clearly Jamie is prone to outbursts of violence but he is not menacing in any way, instead the violence comes from his frustration in not being able to say what he feels. Crankson’s skill is that he is able to make the audience feel hugely sympathetic to this difficult character.

The rest of the cast provide able support, Rebecca Stone is convincing as girlfriend and fellow troubled teen Lynsey; Dario Coates portrays the nerves of younger brother Matty; and Frances Knight shows strength in a hugely awkward meeting with her estranged father.

Le Crass wisely keeps the production unfussy and focused with scene changes minimised and covered by music and projected images. The pace of the production finds the right balance between giving sufficient time for Crankson to work without losing momentum. However, the somewhat fussy and cluttered design by Liam Shea seems slightly incongruous with the stripped back approach to the narrative.

Overall this is an enjoyable production that makes the most of an excellent central performance and whilst the central story is not a cheerful one it is engaging and well worth exploring.

Reviewed by Kris Witherington

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