Legit Review: ‘Bracken Moor’

Scribe Alexi Kaye Campbell toys with genre, theatricality in latest play

Helen Schlesinger, Daniel Flynn, Joseph Timms, Sarah Woodward, Simon Shepherd, Antony Byrne, Natalie Gavin.

There’s a drinks trolley downstage right. Good grief — where are we, the 1930s? Yes. But the cunning new play “Bracken Moor,” a cross between a thunderingly old-fashioned family drama and an unnerving ghost story, is not the dated fare it appears to be. Just when you think you’re enjoying an unusually entertaining genre piece, playwright Alexi Kaye Campbell (“The Pride”) pulls an intriguing switch. The reworking of genre and the unashamed ripeness of the telling is not only a guilty pleasure, it’s likely to prove highly attractive to movie companies. 

Much of the power of Polly Teale’s richly atmospheric production springs from Tom Piper’s design which, beneath Oliver Fenwick’s lighting, not only literally creates the heavily wood-paneled home of hard-hearted colliery owner Harold Pritchard (nicely self-satisfied Daniel Flynn) but metaphorically conveys the emptiness of his life with his wife Elizabeth (Helen Schlesinger), who has never recovered from the accidental death of their 12-year-old son, Edgar, 10 years ago.

Elizabeth has finally escaped her grief sufficiently to countenance re-meeting her much-missed best friend Vanessa (deliciously brisk, full-blooded Sarah Woodward) who comes to stay with her gruff husband and more febrile son Terence, who was Edgar’s closest friend. As the latter, Joseph Timms positively gleams with zealous contemporary idealism about the working man and his conditions. “Good God, I was right. Your son’s a Red,” exclaims Harold who, goaded by Terence’s views, grows ever more intransigent over replacing his loyal, local workforce with machinery. So far, so J.B. Priestley, he of “An Inspector Calls.”

But the highly articulate, spirited opposition of the two men is overtaken by a spirit of an altogether different kind with which Terence becomes possessed. Tension rockets as he is overcome by terror as unknowable family secrets pour forth from his lips, all of which, paradoxically, sets Elizabeth aflame with dangerous hope.

Initially unsettled and then underpinned by a subtly doomy soundscape from composer Jon Nicholls, both play and production consciously flirt with cliche — there’s a dark stormy night replete with thunderclaps and lightning flashes and a suspense-filled shock that brings down the first act curtain. Yet that very self-consciousness is key to the game that Campbell is gradually shown to be playing.

While he’s at it he provides endless opportunities for actors, seized here by an ideal cast, all of whom gain from being reined in by Teale’s direction. She allows emotions to rise without ever letting them boil over. Timms uses his piercing intensity with great discretion which, in turn, provides the motor for Schlesinger. She never vainly emotes. The tears she’s driven to are not an end but the beginning of something far more affecting: the exhaustion and hollowing out of grief.

Those in search of more cutting-edge writing may be disappointed by this seeming lurch backward into tradition. And while it’s abundantly clear that Campbell is using the past to address the present, the knowing quality that emerges won’t appeal to all. Furthermore, the handling of political intent in the scenes that bookend the play could do with pruning – despite the zeal, the author’s voice is louder than that of his lead character.

By the end — which cannot be revealed — it’s clear that the play is, among other things, an experiment in theatricality. But it’s wholly to the play’s credit that instead of using artifice to distancing effect, Campbell is serving up ideas beneath the cloak of entertainment.

Popular on Variety

Legit Review: 'Bracken Moor'

Tricycle Theater, London; 235 seats; £22 ($35) top.  Opened, reviewed June 14, 2013.  Running time:  TWO HOURS, 15 MIN.

Production: A Tricycle Theater and Shared Experience presentation of a play in two acts by Alexi Kaye Campbell.

Creative: Directed by Polly Teale.  Sets and costumes, Tom Piper; lighting, Oliver Fenwick; sound and music, Jon Nicholls; production stage manager, Shannon Foster.

Cast: Helen Schlesinger, Daniel Flynn, Joseph Timms, Sarah Woodward, Simon Shepherd, Antony Byrne, Natalie Gavin.

More Legit

  • Becoming Nancy review

    Atlanta Theater Review: 'Becoming Nancy'

    It’s not that in 2019 gay teens don’t have coming-out issues. But It’s like an Afterschool Nothing-Special. It’s a case of best intentions, with positive role models and an uplifting ending proving insufficient when basics such as characters, dialogue and plotting offer little in the way of wit, surprise or enchantment. The top Broadway talents [...]

  • Broadway-Breakfast-Split

    Variety to Celebrate Second Business of Broadway Breakfast With Thomas Schumacher, Diane Paulus and Diablo Cody

    Variety has announced the lineup for its second annual Business of Broadway breakfast presented by City National Bank. Joining the breakfast on Oct. 7 is the president and producer of Disney Theatrical Productions Thomas Schumacher, who will take part in the event’s keynote conversation. In his position, Thomas oversees the company’s worldwide stage productions, which [...]

  • Sue Wagner John Johnson

    Tony-Winning Producers Sue Wagner and John Johnson Announce New Venture, Wagner Johnson Productions

    Sue Wagner and John Johnson, seven-time Tony award-winning producers, announced Wednesday that they have embarked on a new theatrical business venture, Wagner Johnson Productions. Under the name, they will produce and general manage a wide scope of theater productions. One of Wagner Johnson Productions’ current projects is a musical rendition of “Almost Famous,” which will [...]

  • Sam Rockwell and Laurence Fishburne

    Sam Rockwell, Laurence Fishburne Starring in Broadway Revival of 'American Buffalo'

    Laurence Fishburne and Sam Rockwell will star in an upcoming Broadway revival of David Mamet’s “American Buffalo.” The show marks Rockwell’s first appearance on the Great White Way since his 2014 performance in the revival of Sam Shepard’s “Fool for Love.” The five-year absence saw him pick up an Oscar for “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, [...]

  • Secret Derren Brown review

    Broadway Review: 'Derren Brown: Secret'

    Audiences love to be fooled, whether it’s with clever plotting with a twist, the arrival of an unexpected character or even a charming flimflam man with a British accent. The latter is Derren Brown, and he’s entertaining audiences for a limited run at the Cort Theatre, where he is playing head-scratching mind games and other [...]

  • Matthew Broderick, Sarah Jessica ParkerNew York

    Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker to Reunite on Broadway for 'Plaza Suite'

    Real-life couple Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker are hitting the Broadway stage again for a reboot of the late Neil Simon’s 1968 play “Plaza Suite.” The staging will mark the Broadway directorial debut of Tony award-winner John Benjamin Hickey. Set in New York City’s Plaza Hotel in Suite 719, “Plaza Suite” is comprised of [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content