by Diana Miranda
Henry (Henry Madd) has always found it easier to tell other people’s stories rather than his own. So that’s what he does in The Land of Lost Content where he turns the Pleasance Downstairs into his hometown Dulowl. As part of the Vault Festival transfer season, the show lays out the growing pains in the hearts and bodies of a group of mates that grew up in this little village that happens to rhyme with ‘dull’. Harry’s old friend Jake (Darragh Hand), who now sees him as a somewhat disloyal outsider, welcomes him at the local pub. Pint after pint, they engage with vivid memories from the old days
before Henry moved away. As he tells us, their real-world adventures come nowhere close to the coming-of-age glory promised by movies.
The show has a bittersweet flavour from its tone alternating between nostalgia and resentment. Written by Madd, spoken word poetry sparkles in the storytelling like teaspoons of mellow rhetoric adding the flavour of a dreamlike mood of remembrance. This, along with a stage completely covered with tiny pieces of cuddly, pastel blue foam rubber (designed by Donald Marshall), produces a soothing effect that contrasts with stories of mental health issues and toxic atmospheres.
Directed by Nic Connaughton, Henry and Jake dig out pieces of memorabilia from under the foamy floor in a half-mocking endeavour to enact old anecdotes. This gives a dynamic and child-like essence to their pursuit of memories. These objects seem to manifest at their feet when most needed, from backpacks and dancing shoes, to liquor bottles and joints. The narration from the pub’s table that anchors them to the present time preserves this dynamism, and they use the condiments to embody some characters, keeping the play entertaining throughout.
Munotida Chinyanga’s sound design works as a thread that interweaves every scene with great fluidity and provides a subtle yet distinctive density to the show. The design gives a contrasting flow from evocative music to realistic pub sounds. Meanwhile, Matthew Swithinbank’s lighting contributes decisively to the smooth floating from past to present. It’s rare to come across a design able to delineate a show’s narrative on its very own, and his thorough work surely manages to do it.
The cast gives an honest, heart-warming performance that alternates seriousness and humour to navigate their transition into young adulthood in a small village. There’s room for more clarity in diction towards the end, the lack of which compromises the engagement a bit. Also, the script is a bit hazy regarding Jake’s like in the aftermath of Henry leaving town. However, it successfully manages to produce the atmosphere of the people and places in Dulowl’s micro-universe, something that big-city-life audiences might otherwise fail to grasp.
Henry reiterates that he’s always been better at telling the story of others. But we come to realise that perhaps it is through these stories – thanks to and despite them – that he manages to shape his own. I only wonder what the drive behind the storytelling is – detachment, gratitude, closure? After embarking on a journey in The Land of Lost Content, there’s a sense of knowing that a shift in the character’s state of mind occurred, one that has altered his standpoint. Therefore there’s a longing for
some sort of release, both for the character and for the audience, once the final blackout compels us to leave the venue.
The Land of Lost Content runs through 12 February.
The Play’s the Thing UK is committed to covering fringe and progressive theatre in London and beyond. It is run entirely voluntarily and needs regular support to ensure its survival. For more information and to help The Play’s the Thing UK provide coverage of the theatre that needs reviews the most, visit its patreon.