The Turnip Field – Stoke-on-Trent Repertory Theatre then The Turbine Theatre, London. Reviewed by Jenny Amphlett.
Country and western, bad am dram, clairvoyance, even a troupe of downmarket male strippers – it’s so long since I’ve been to the theatre that I could have sat through pretty much anything and still come out with a smile on my face at the end of the evening.
How lucky then to have struck Irish gold on that first time back in an auditorium – a new play written and performed in Staffordshire with a West End cast. What’s more it was booked to transfer to a West End theatre even before the curtain had risen for opening night.
The Turnip Field was one of the first new pieces of theatre to open in the UK post-lockdown and if you can snap up one of the few tickets remaining for the rest of its run at Stoke-on-Trent Repertory Theatre then I’d advise doing so – it’ll save you a trip to the capital.
Written by Stone-based barrister and actor Catherine O’Reilly and her partner Tim Churchill, whose usual day job is with the national touring production of Blood Brothers, this was always going to be a quality piece of theatre. But I hadn’t been prepared for just how good it would be.
The Turnip Field is intimate, pared-down theatre at its best. With the simplest of sets and a cast of just two, this sort of show lives or dies on the merits of the tiny team involved in creating it. I’m delighted to say that it works extremely well.
For more than a year now we’ve all been cut off from human contact, so the intimacy and subtlety of this play felt heightened. This isn’t about big show tunes and technical wizardry; it’s facial expressions, nuances of speech and clever use of very limited props.
When the parcel delivery driver and the checkout person at the supermarket have been the sum total of your social life, it’s rather splendid to sit in front of two unmasked actors spilling forth emotions freely.
Have I mentioned that the cast are both seasoned West End actors? We can thank the pandemic for freeing them up to be available for a little show opening in Stoke-on-Trent in front of an audience of less than 100. I felt quite honoured to be in the room watching Sean Jones and Josh Capper giving an acting masterclass.
The pair take the roles of young Irish brothers John and Joe, whose lives are played out in the turnip field of the show’s title.
The 90-minute play, performed without an interval to help with social distancing, is by turns funny, cheeky and touching. I came out of Stoke Rep feeling moved by the play but also by the quality of the production.
The Turnip Field runs at Stoke Rep until Saturday, May 29 and then at The Turbine Theatre, London, from June 2 to 5. I feel sure that is not the last we’ll hear of this beautifully crafted play.