Cold Comfort Farm – Sir John Mills Theatre

Thanks to the popularity of shows like Lark Rise To Candleford, quaint bygone rural life seems to be in vogue.

It’s not a new phenomenon though; novelists have been turning to tales of country folk for years – the Brontes, D.H. Lawrence and Thomas Hardy among others who visited the Genre. Stella Gibbons’ 1932 novel Cold Comfort Farm parodies these novels and, in turn, has since been transformed for the stage.

It’s a surreal world that defies easy plot explanation. Think The League of Gentleman’s Royston Vasey meets Monty Python and you get close to the surreal world of Cold Comfort Farm.

Ada Doom is a virtual recluse on the farm, living upstairs since seeing ‘something narsty in the woodshed’, her extended family surround her but this is no ordinary family. There’s the mother lusting over her own son, cousins in love with each other, religious fanatics, a servant who throws herself down the well at the mere mention of her jilted lover, oh and a Greek chorus of talking cows.

It’s an interesting choice of play for Rushmere Players to stage. The comedy is so surreal that it’s not an easy plot to follow and the characters are so over the top it’s difficult to really engage with them.

Paul Doust’s stage adaptation also parodies local dialects with the inclusion of several fake country words and ways. While they may look comic on the page, constant references to scranletting, clettering and mollocking again distance audience involvement.

Such over the top comic material conversely needs to be played straight to get the full effect. The laughs should come from the situation and characters, if the tendency to play the material for all out laughs is indulged, it can all too easily fall.

While Alan Dix’s direction does give us some strongly observed characters it would benefit from dialling back just about all the performances a couple of notches to allow the humour to develop more naturally.

There are some nice portrayals in the company. Stella Day as the outsider faced with meeting her madcap relations holds the piece together nicely. There are also competent performances from Bryony Dix as simpleton servant Rennet, Mark Falco as wannabe matinee idol Seth, and David Miller as farming-obsessed Reuben.

There is some real potential here and it’s a brave choice of play but, unfortunately, the sum of the parts never quite add up.

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