Cambridge Arts Theatre, Cambridge – until 14 March 2020
Reviewed by Steph Lott
What’s that you say? A thriller? Based on a true story? Described as “bold and haunting”, it sounded like the kind of play I would really enjoy.
I like a thriller that chills – fiction along the lines of Susan Hill, Edgar Allan Poe, or Steven King. I prefer horror and chills that leave a lot to your imagination – the threat that is mentioned but you never see, since the fear that lurks in the imagination of the viewer or the reader is always much better that when you are explicitly shown it. I like stories which show that the world is not only what it appears to be. The mystical.
The Croft tells the story of three women from different eras who have lived in a remote dwelling in the Scottish Highlands and whose lives have been touched by tragedy.
In the 1880s, there is Enid, played by Gwen Taylor. In 2005, the croft is used as a holiday home by Ruth, played by Caroline Harker, and her husband, Tom, played by Simon Roberts. It is also where Ruth has an affair with David, played by Drew Cain. In the present day, Ruth’s daughter, Laura, played by Lucy Doyle, and partner Suzanne, also played by Caroline Harker, return to the croft and uncover the truth hidden within its walls.
The play started well – so ominously, with Enid alone, centre stage, and sound and lighting being used very effectively to set the scene for a spine tingling treat. Or so I hoped.
Sadly I ended up feeling a little confused and disappointed. I was engaged in the play the whole way through, enjoyed the dialogue and thought the whole cast gave great authentic performances. But I was expecting a grand climax, a denouement which never came. I was left feeling “oh.” As I left the theatre I couldn’t really have said what the play was about. I could tell you what happened in the play but not why Ali Milles felt compelled to tell this story.
The story lacked depth and detail in places. It’s not clear why Laura blamed her father so much (was there a connecting theme of destructive religious fervor linking Tom and Patrick? It wasn’t well enough developed in the story to know). There were elements that I enjoyed but other aspects had me lost. Why was Enid an outcast? Why would Eilene (also played by Lucy Doyle) choose to go to her to seek refuge? Why was Laura so angry at her father? I think I was left with the sensation that Ali Milles has made a good start with this play but its narrative needs further work.
However the intertwining of the 3 periods in time works well and each story of itself makes sense. I’m just not quite sure what Ali Milles us trying to say. The play needs a good editor.
Having said that I think the dialogue was well written and there was much to enjoy within the play. The sound and the scenery, as I’ve mentioned, create an atmospheric cocoon within which the story can unfold. Caroline Harker’s portrayal of a woman bravely facing death is played with grace and delicacy, as is her other role as the older lover trying to balance off leaving her family and being in love with the difficult and much younger Laura.
In summary I think this play needs work but was blessed with a very talented cast and director. Was this a play about witches and how they have always been misunderstood? Is it about how men fail to understand their women, try as they might? Was it about buildings and the history they hold within their walls? Or was it just a creepy ghostly tale, which was supposed to have been based on a true story? I was left unsure