THE NIGHT HERON
Jerwood Theatre Downstairs at the Royal Court, London SW1
Opened 17 April, 2002

*** Terrific characters and dialogue, but what's it about?

Jez Butterworth's first play since his sensational début Mojo has the same sharpness and complexity, but the big picture's a mystery.

Wattmore and Griffin share a cabin on the Cambridgeshire Fens. Wattmore was dismissed from his job as a gardener at Corpus Christi College for excessive religious zeal (he belongs to a crackpot local cult); the strangely devoted Griffin left in sympathy, and is now trying secretly to field blackmail demands alleging that Wattmore is a child molester. The pair let out the cabin's only bedroom to suspicious ex-convict Bolla; she shares Griffin's fondness for poetry, whilst injecting an air of menace into the cabin-fevered atmosphere.

Butterworth is phenomenally skilled at incisive, absurd turns of phrase and images culminating here in a naked man returning to consciousness in darkness to be greeted by a shaft of light and the bellowed interrogation, "Who's your favourite poet?". And the trio of central performances are wonderful. But this play looks loaded with symbolism, and it's all impenetrable. If he's saying something metaphysical about belief and devotion, it passed me by; if he's just using a convenient assumption that all Fenland folk are religious nutters, it seems a bit gratuitous. Like the rare bird of the title, it all may or may not mean something.

Written for divento.com

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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