Written by Simon Longman. King’s Cross Theatre. 3 – 18 Mar, 2023.
Simon Longman’s acclaimed play, Gundog, paints a grim picture of rural life in the UK as one family falls apart over time – the victims of circumstance, mental illness and economic desperation. It’s a gruelling story and definitely not for everyone.
Sisters Becky (LJ Wilson) and Anna (Jane Angharad) have resorted to stealing sheep to replace their own flock. They find a stranger who introduces himself as Guy Tree (Saro Lepejian) who has nowhere to go. They give him room and board in return for his help with the sheep. As the years pass, Guy discovers more of their history and what brought this farming family to the end of their tether.
On a simple stage, this production directed by Anthony Skuse inventively revels in this darkness. Clever design and lighting mark the passing of years as the narrative jumps backwards and forwards through time. It helps that these characters are almost stuck in a timeless state – their lives on a slow descent they can not avert. Even Becky and Anna’s brother (James Smithers), who left years earlier, comes back in desperation. There is a centre of gravity to their pain that is impossible to break free from.
As an illustration of rural living, so far so awful. Gundog paints the life of farmers as a noose around their necks. Becky never finished school because it bore no resemblance to her life, and that lack of formal education forces her to stay. These characters have no options left. There is no hope and that’s a suffocating place for an audience to sit in for almost 2 hours (I know it could be worse, we could be watching Ivo Van Hove’s epic adaptation of A Little Life!).
Despite great performances and strong direction, Gundog failed to connect with me. Misery-porn is my least favourite genre and this play comes very close to falling into that.
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