“Gossip,” we’re told, “travels fast in a valley.” There’s certainly plenty of gossip about lanky farmer’s son Sam Marsdyke, as he’s the first to admit to us. It’s only as his tale progresses that we, as an audience, begin to realise that some of that local chit-chat might well be justified.
This is a world all in the present tense
God’s Own Country is adapted by Kyle Ross and Joel Samuels from the acclaimed 2008 novel by Ross Raisin. In this new production presented by Fine Mess Theatre, Ross and Samuels are taking turns playing Marsdyke; on the night of this review, Samuels was on stage, and certainly showed the acting range and power to create a whole theatrical world.
As in the novel, Marsdyke is our sole narrator; any sense we get of the world and the people in it — his monosyllabic father, his former peers at school, the city-folk incomers, including his new neighbours’ 15-year-old blond daughter — are presented through his eyes, his vocabulary and his sometimes poetic imagination.
It is simply staged; the set is just a black box to sit on, surrounded by some hay. The focus is therefore kept on Marsdyke and what happens. This is a world all in the present tense, but it’s the details rather than the whole picture which fascinate him the most; not least when, while having a conversation with the girl next-door who has clearly captured his heart, he can barely drag his attention away from the millipede inching its way up her leg.
It becomes clear — to the audience, if not to Marsdyke — that the 15-year-old girl is at least initially interested in him because she’s bored and wants to rebel against the snobbish parents who, having dragged her all the way from Muswell Hill to Yorkshire (Devon having “reached saturation point” apparently), have warned her to keep her distance.
Marsdyke, as his story unfolds, is the very definition of an unreliable narrator, yet while we may well question our sympathy for the young man by the close, there’s certainly no doubting the quality of this as a piece of theatre.