I look back on the way I was then: a young, stupid kid who committed that terrible crime. I want to talk to him. I want to try to talk some sense to him, tell him the way things are. But I can’t. That kid’s long gone, and this old man is all that’s left. I got to live with that.
The Shawshank Redemption
For anyone who has ever ‘lived a life’, having regrets is part and parcel of daily living. But while choices in relationships are the most common source of guilt, other – more extreme – decisions may come into play… Written by Simon Stephens and directed by Scott Le Crass, Country Music examines the life of a young offender over a span of 17 years. Eighteen-year-old Jamie Carris (Cary Crankson) spends an evening with Lynsey (Rebecca Stone) who is truanting from a borstal. Jamie is really into Lynsey and once they finish their conversation, plans to drive down to Southend with her. But as Jamie talks about his well-meaning, if unrealistic, plans to get away from it all with Lynsey, it soon becomes apparent that he rarely thinks of the consequences of his actions – especially when it comes to acts of violence which are ‘justified’ in the heat of the moment.
I confess that before Country Music, I hadn’t seen Crankson in any other productions. But like a lot of people are saying, I can concur that his naturalistic performance is a revelation and that his ‘Offie’ nomination is well-deserved.
Under Le Crass’ direction, the scenes are allowed to ‘breathe’, with characters not burdened with conversation from beginning to end. Sometimes this is used to show how comfortable the characters are with each other such as with Jamie and Lynsey intially, and sometimes it’s used to denote a Pinteresque-sense of dread.
The rest of the play sees Jamie speaking one-on-one with pivotal people who challenge his understanding of himself and life at large. Bearing in mind aspects of Jamie’s behaviour in the opening conversation, it’s perhaps no surprise that when we next meet him eight years later, the law has caught up and he’s spent the previous years moving from location to location at ‘Her Majesty’s Pleasure’. It is, however, after the arrival of his younger, half-brother Matty (Dario Coates) that Jamie realises how long he’s been away. The last time Jamie saw him he was just an ‘annoying’ kid. But now Matty’s around the same age that Jamie was when he was ‘sent down’, the truth hits home.
Having seen Coates in Sid – another play directed by Le Crass – where he played a young fan of punk music, his performance here is suitably restrained for the role. As Jamie’s much younger brother, Matty is both in awe of him and afraid of what he’s capable of – a trait common with all the conversations.
It’s significant that when Jamie eventually gets to meet hs daughter Emma (Frances Knight), it is a strained affair and not perhaps the way he envisages it happening. While shyness maybe a factor, it’s painfully obvious that Emma’s mother has kept her in the dark about most things and the little that she does know isn’t complementary. For anyone who’s experienced an acrimonious divorce as a parent or child, the situation is a familiar one – either a parent is ill-spoken of or their existence isn’t acknowledged at all. If, as the saying goes, you’re never really dead as long as someone remembers you, Jamie is by definition a ‘ghost’. But to quote Christian Louboutin, “People tend to fear the ghosts in their own family. You feel these family curses and think, ‘If it happened to my father, it could happen to me…'”
Much like Gaspar Noe’s Irreversible, we meet the protagonists at the very beginning, before their future is ‘sullied’ and all manner of possibilities lie ahead. Knowing how happy they are here, before several life-changing poor choices, it’s sobering to see how a man’s life can be dictated by one pivotal point in time…
…and no, there isn’t a country music song in sight.
© Michael Davis 2019
Country Music runs at Omnibus Theatre at 23rd June.