Harvest

Richard Bean's bucolic comedy, set against the constancy of pig farming and the changing nature of the 20th century. £14.50 - £26
Oxford Playhouse, Jan 30-Feb 6 2009

February 4, 2009
Harvest is an epic gallop across ten decades of family farm life. Richard Bean's new play, set in East Yorkshire, gently takes the theme of the changing nature of British agriculture and weaves this in and around and number of subplots, largely involving the fraught dynamics of family relationships. During the interval my companion for the evening described it as “like The Archers on speed” and Bean acknowledges this unavoidable comparison by playing the radio soap’s infamous theme tune during the second act. This triggers a laugh of recognition – and possibly relief – from the audience.

Harvest is not a particularly radical play though it does attempt to address, or at least present, issues surrounding farm politics. We observe a simple and efficient family farm deteriorate into a debt-ridden pig factory. As well as exemplifying what has happened to British agriculture this could be a timely metaphor for any number of industries in decline in today's economic climate. However, Bean does not sacrifice the depth of his characters or flow of his narrative for the sake of delivering a political comment. Instead, Harvest is a play abundant with exceptionally likable and refreshingly believable characters. We witness William, played by Ian Dunn, age from 19 to 113; he does so convincingly and without causing the audience to feel any pity for him. Similarly, we see the character of Laura advance from being the 'most beautiful lass' in Yorkshire to living in squalor as an old woman; again she remained dignified against the odds.

It's no accident that the squalor Laura is surrounded by in her old age comprises largely of mess collected in and around Tesco carrier bags. This verges on a somewhat obvious comment on the impact large supermarkets have had on small farmers, and small producers in general. However, the bags remain a backdrop only and their presence does not ultimately have much of an effect. Despite ten decades of being manipulated by politics and money the characters – the people – remain intact.

Harvest is deeply satisfying; you may not leave the theatre with any fired up feelings about the state of British agriculture but you will certainly go home with a sense of having been through something subtly special.
This is terrific - don't miss it! Worth all the effort of going out on a cold snowy night; excellent storyline with endless unexpected twists and turns, full of black humour, tragedy AND joy. Endearing characters who get under your skin - all the things you hope for from a good night out in the theatre but so rarely get! The acting and the production are worthy of the West End, I was so caught up in the tale, I didn't notice the acting, it was so involving we were just carried along by the momentum of the whole performance. It'll entertain you, cheer you up no end and make you a more compassionate person as far a pig farmers are concerned. Don't miss it.
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