Echoes End Review

Salisbury Playhouse – 31 March 2017.  Reviewed by Joanne Gordon 

Echoes End, written by Barney Norris, is the story of love, war and change.  Set on a farm in rural Salisbury Plain between 1914-1918, the sleepy, quiet villages are infiltrated with the arrival of thousands of servicemen when camps are set up to accommodate those waiting to deploy to the trenches of the First World War. Two families work the land, Arnold (David Beames) and his daughter Anna (Katie Moore) along with his old friend Jasper (Robin Soans) and Margaret (Sadie Shimmin) with her son John (Tom Byrne). That’s the way its always been for generations, the Plain is vast with swathes of green hills, rivers and sunsets that take your breath away.

It has always been presumed that John and Anna would wed and bring up their family on the Plain just how they were.  As the war continues the landscape changes, with the rolling hills now covered in thousands of tents, field hospitals and a new railway cutting through the land.  After declaring his love and intentions to Anna, who declined his advances – feeling she did not know how to love him back, and that there is a bigger world out there for her than just the farm, John volunteered to join the Army to fight for his country.

As Farm life continued, an injured ANZAC soldier named Jack Howard (Oliver Hembrough) from the camp arrives to sell black-market goods to Arnold.  He helps Anna start up a fire and the spark of friendship begins. Within days, John gets notice of deployment and comes to say his goodbyes to his distraught mother and Anna.  When John heads back down to camp there’s a beautiful moment where they “cuckoo” to each other till they can no longer hear it like they used to when they were children, to make sure the other was safe walking down the lanes back home. Time carries forward and Anna’s relationship with Jack blooms, much to the disdain of her Father.  Jack, now healed has to head to France to continue his war and once again Anna, despite loving him deeply treats him in a cold manner and lets him leave without telling him her true feelings.  She confides in old Jasper, as her father is seriously ill,  that she is carrying Jacks child and feels he probably had a right to know but it’s now too late.

John returns home a changed man after suffering a serious injury and struggles to adjust back into farm life, angry with his mother for not telling him of Anna’s pregnancy and her relationship with Jack.  He withdraws from their friendship, and they no longer speak.  Anna’s father dies and the farm goes back to the Lord of the Manor.  As she leaves the farm she sees John in the field, explaining how she is moving 30 miles away to live with a woman who will support her with the baby and gain employment, they stand and watch one last sunset together regretting how long they have left it to speak and that they will always have a love for each other.

The set was stunning, with tall trees, rolling grasses and a rippling river side.  Lighting gave the sense of red sunsets and long summer days.  Living local, I enjoyed references of nearby places meaning I could place myself in the middle of its setting. One to see if you enjoy local, social history with a humanistic element.