The Common Land is a stark one-man show which recounts a coming of age tale set in The Fens, in language that is raw and brutish. Written and performed by the talented Joel Samuels, directed by Anthony Lau, this is a fast-paced and original story of loneliness, brutality and love rooted in what is dubbed ‘our shitty bit of England’.
This is beautiful storytelling and the kind of piece you feel richer for seeing.
We are taken into the confidence of Tom Head, the son of a hunchbacked farm hand. Beaten by his father and tormented at school, life does not treat him kindly, until one day with a literal crash he meets Leah. From this point on everything changes, the beatings and the bullying continue, but they are no longer without retribution. Between reading, shared cigarettes and writing stories Tom and Leah make plans - spearheaded by our protagonist’s enigmatic friend.
It’s an uncompromising place to be - on stage, alone for an hour - and aside from a slightly slow start and a few line stumbles Samuels manages to be a mesmerising presence. We believe everything, the story feels like it is being delivered by its owner, with no detail edited. Quick fire words keep up the pace and our narrator moves between telling the story and addressing his audience. This is a difficult character. He does not get on with his parents (the quasimodos), the kids at school hate him and the teachers despair at his behaviour, despite him being a straight A student. It makes sense that we should also take a while to warm to him. By the time the end came he had all my empathy and I felt robbed that our journey had finished.
Haunting original music by The Melodic frames the performance, a song which by the end of the piece is rendered even more poignant by a sense of shared experience. This is beautiful storytelling and the kind of piece you feel richer for seeing.