What do you get if you combine two characters, one trampoline and a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle? According to Jaz Woodcock-Stewart (the writer of Lands) you get a dysfunctional relationship on the brink of collapse. As the play opens, we are introduced to Leah and Sophie; the former excitedly narrating her progress through a jigsaw puzzle, the latter jumping up and down on a trampoline. It’s a surreal, though seemingly innocent, scene that takes on a far more sinister quality when Sophie realises that she cannot get off the trampoline. The rest of the narrative follows the couple’s combined efforts to keep Sophie grounded, which inevitably leads to resentment on both sides: Leah grows frustrated with Sophie’s inability to perform what she perceives as basic self-control, while Sophie laments Leah’s inability to understand the nature and extent of the problem facing her.
The narrative of Lands is relentless, both thematically and literally. Minus two instances during the opening scene where the stage darkens to illustrate the passage of time, the stage remains illuminated throughout. Furthermore, the actors never leave the stage until the final bow. The effect is that the audience are held captive and forced to see the characters in their most intimate, vulnerable moments in the same manner that the characters are forced to see each other, be that through a heated confrontation or an agonising silence. Be warned: the play classifies itself as a tragicomedy, which I feel is slightly misleading as such a description led me to expect a roughly equal amount of both tragedy and comedy. Lands clearly feels differently, featuring a suffocating portrayal of destructively compulsive behaviour that offers few laughs untinged by bitterness.
Aiding the narrative is the masterful stage design which serves to enforce many of the central metaphors the play relies upon. In one scene, Sophie seemingly frees herself from the trampoline and joins Leah at the jigsaw puzzle. However, even though the trampoline has been abandoned, it remains centre stage; an ominous reminder that Sophie’s compulsive tendencies are still present even if she has literally turned her back on them. Certainly, Antler (the production company) managed to do something I thought was impossible; they made me hate a trampoline. Its squeaking and stretching at every bounce serves as a constant reminder of Sophie’s captivity, to the point that by the end of the play it has become an agonising sound to both the audience and Leah, who blocks her ears in an attempt to shield herself from the evidence of Sophie’s problems.
The play succeeds in making Sophie’s perspective equally sympathetic. As Leah attempts to explain the intricacies of the puzzle she’s building that somehow features adorable rabbits in one section and gruesome murders in another, we feel just as alienated as Sophie. To the audience, it becomes tragically clear that as the characters try to connect, they only succeed in alienating each other.
In conclusion, Lands is painful, poignant and well worth the price of admission.