The Pope’s Wedding, review

The Cock Tavern Theatre
Dir: Conrad Blakemore

A young man sits gazing at a dead body, surrounded by tins of food. The characters in Edward Bond’s play may speak like those in The Archers, but nothing this chilling ever happens in Ambridge.

Written in 1960, The Pope’s Wedding was Bond’s first play and Conrad Blakemore’s production at the Cock Tavern Theatre is only its second revival in the UK. Set in rural Essex, the play tells the story of farm labourer Scopey, his wife Pat and the old hermit they both look after. As Scopey and Pat’s relationship begins to disintegrate, Scopey strikes up a disturbing intimacy with “Old Allen”. The Pope has nothing to do with it: the rather preposterous title suggests an impossible event.

Tim O’Hara as Scopey goes from awkward teenager to prowling menace smoothly and credibly. He captures Scopey’s sadistic curiosity about Allen’s life by combining a steady gaze and aggressive body language with hollow laughter and niceties. In his turn, John Atterbury as Allen is heart-wrenching as the shrivelled hermit. Under Conrad Blakemore’s direction, Atterbury gives the audience an immediate sense of this man’s simple world. Pat, played by Rebecca Tanwen, is quick, bird-like and bright-eyed: a small-town girl with ambitions to match.

The rest of the ensemble are strong although the opening couple of scenes felt hesitant. Blakemore finds an ingenious way of staging a cricket match on the petite Cock Tavern’s stage and elsewhere manages to recreate the tired boredom of rural labourers after a day’s work. While Bond’s language is sparse even to the point of banality, Blakemore brings out the text’s hints and implications. All accents are flawless and designer Nancy Surman deserves a mention for her minutely observed costumes.

Blakemore’s production makes no apologies for Bond’s preoccupation with everyday rhythms. This results in a play which feels a touch over long, despite its hypnotic naturalism. Overall, however, The Pope’s Wedding is a chilling, thought-provoking, and often funny piece of drama from an exceptionally strong cast.

This review first appeared in the Willesden and Brent Times

The Edward Bond season runs until 13 November.

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