The Royal Court Theatre presents
Country Music ( Archived )
By Simon Stephens
24 June - 17 July 2004
Jerwood Theatre Upstairs
A story of crime and redemption. Starting at the mouth of the River Thames and moving across England over twenty years. It begins with a life choice for Jamie Carris and ends with a re-union with his young daughter. It is also a story about a killer.
Simon Stephens’ plays include BLUEBIRD and HERONS for the Royal Court. Other work includes PORT (Royal Exchange, Manchester), winner of the Pearson Award For Best Play 2001; ONE MINUTE (an ATC production) and CHRISTMAS (Bush).
ATC produces and tours innovative contemporary work from the UK and international repertoire.
‘…Anderson’s sensitive, precise direction has paid off brilliantly herehe meticulous acting is as persuasive as the direction.’ The Times [ONE MINUTE]
Cast: Calum Callaghan, Laura Elphinstone, Sally Hawkins and Lee Ross.
From L to R: Lee Ross, Calum Callaghan and Sally Hawkins.
Photos: Steve Cummiskey
In an achingly tender scene, Stephens shows Jamie trying to reach out to a shy teenager to whom he is an unfathomable stranger. Only a natural dramatist could have written a scene as good as that.
Gordan Anderson’s production, a joint venture between the Court and ATC, yields an exceptional performance by Lee Ross as Jamie. With miraculous economy, he charts the character growth from psychotic tear-away to reformed lifer who finds consolation in mechanical tasks like writing out the shipping forecast.
29 June, Michael Billington, THE GUARDIAN
Jamie, dynamically acted by Lee Ross with flickers of aggression, vulnerability and muted sadness, does terrible things offstage.
Carris, now on parole, meets and is rejected by his adult daughter, all gauche unease in Laura Elphinstone’s superb performance.
29 June, Nicholas de Jongh, EVENING STANDARD
Simon Stephen’s marvellous and moving new play lasts for little more than an hour but feels like an epic. Its cunning constructed narrative, spanning more than 20 years and covering the length of England from Gravesend to Sunderland, is spare but eloquent, demanding that the audience uses its own imagination to fill in the gaps.
The action begins in a car at two in the morning. Jamie, 18, has just picked up Lynsey, 15, from the children home where she lives. He is a former inmate himself, and once tried to hang himself, following abuse.
The pair are on the run, with half-baked plans of starting a new life in Southend. But there a problem: just before setting off, Jamie bottled a man in a pub and then stabbed the assistant in an off-license.
The next scene is set 11 years later, in 1994. Jamie is now banged up in prison, after an earlier spell in borstal, this time for murder. He is being visited by his half-brother, Matty, who tells him that Lynsey has moved north with another man, and taken Jamie’s daughter with her.
In the third scene, set in 2004, Jamie is in a B&B in Sunderland, meeting his now 17-year-old daughter for the first time in 14 years. A coda takes us back to 1983, and reveals the starting point of all Jamie’s troubles.
Stephens has run writing courses in several prisons and young offenders’ institutions, and clearly knows the penal territory well. But it is the imaginative sympathy of Country Music that really blew me away.
The awkwardness between the two brothers is caught in all its inarticulate pain, but the dramatist tops even this in the scene which Jamie meets his daughter.
She is scared by the intensity of his memories and the tenderness of his feelings for her; he cannot believe that she remembers so little of him and that he is so peripheral to her life. The play opens up a world of pain, and one man’s desperate need for forgiveness and redemption.
Director Gordon Anderson does the play proud with the help of a cast who uncover its emotional depth and its subtly signalled back-story.
Soutra Gilmour’s design semi-abstract panorama of British countrysid and Julian Swale’s atmospheric score add to the success of the evening, but it is the performances that really make the piece glow.
Lee Ross may be too old successfully to capture a hyped-up 18-year-old, but, in subsequent scenes, he captures Jamie’s turbulent emotions with a restraint and precision that is at times almost unbearably moving. There are fleeting glimpses of the simmering internal violence that has wrecked his life, sudden moments of aching tenderness suggesting the price of all he has lost.
Sally Hawkins is superb, too, as the 15-year-old Lynsey, capturing the toughness and the vulnerability of a child in care. Calum Callaghan beautifully signals the misery of Matty wretched home life, while Laura Elphinstone plays Jamie’s daughter with an edgy, pent-up tension that leads her into unwitting but devastating, cruelty.
I was puzzled by the play title, until I read an interview with Stephens where he said he wanted to offer the theatrical equivalent of the intense emotions of great American country music. And in its hauntingly desolate way, his drama can indeed stand comparison with the best and the darkest of Hank Williams and Johnny Cash.
30 June, Charles Spencer, THE DAILY TELEGRAPH
Without becoming preachy or patronising he produced the sort of cautionary preachy or patronising he produced the sort of cautionary play that could and should be revived in prisons and young offender units everywhere.
this 70-minute piece is also worth the time of those of us who think that doing your bird means plucking a chicken.
Gordon Anderson well-acted production makes the most of Stephen curt, understated dialogue. For me, he still the writing discovery of 2004.
30 June, Benedict Nightingale, THE TIMES
His latest play, Country Music, is an accomplished piece of work, its four scenes spanning almost 21 years and lasting just over an hour, and faultless, except that it seems an excessively polished version of The Royal Court Play.
the rhythm is strong but never stale. Lee Ross gives a marvellous performance as Jamie, shining with forlorn eagerness.
30 June, Alastair Macaulay, FINANCIAL TIMES
JERWOOD THEATRE UPSTAIRS
Tickets 7.50 – 16
Monday – Saturday 7.45pm
24 – 26 June 7.45pm
28 and 29 June 7pm
Sign-Interpreted Performance(s) 15 July 7.45pm Signed by Mary Connell
7 July 2.30pm
3, 10 and 17 July 4pm
14 July 4pm