The Croft @ Darlington Hippodrome
A tale set across 3 time periods but very much of today.
Set solely in a small crofters cottage in the Scottish Highlands, and with minimal props, the immersive and at times claustrophobic feelings are testament to the small but brilliant cast and the tight direction by Philip Franks.
The opening scene presents the viewer with Suzanne and Laura, two modern urbanites who have escaped to the croft for a break away and to discover each other. Laura (Lucy Doyle) is an early twenties modern woman, brash, confident and desperate to take life for what she wants. The croft is actually her father’s and so this return after many years is a chance for her to reconnect with her past and hopefully bring in her future.
Suzanne is a mum of 2 teenage boys, her marriage on the rocks, who has found herself in the midst of an exciting and new relationship, both with Laura and more importantly, with herself.
Interspersed with the here and now story are two other timelines both of which also play out in the croft. One is of Laura’s mum, Ruth, who loved to visit the croft and chose it as her final place to live while she succumbed to terminal cancer. She and Laura were as best friends during Laura's early childhood, swimming, hiking and spending time at the croft but sadly she became estranged with Laura’s vicar father, Tom (Simon Roberts) and found a friendship in the local gamekeeper David (Drew Cain). Clearly Laura has some unresolved issues with how her mum finally died and was hoping that her visit to the croft would help her to understand and maybe make peace.
The other tale is set in the mid 19th century of an old crofter, Enid (Gwen Taylor) who takes in a young village girl, Eilene (again played by Lucy Doyle) and the challenges of not only fighting the clearances, but also of the suspicion and fear that a single, old woman could breed in the small minded community. Hounded as a witch and with aspersions cast on the nature of their relationship, Enid refuses to leave the croft despite the all pleading and threats.
Whilst this is billed as a thriller, I found it more to be a piece on social attitudes. It may be set across 3 time periods but the underlying themes are very much of today, very ‘woke’, very #metoo.
All the female roles encounter some degree of prejudice from male counterparts and are forced to seek solace with other women which only seems to provoke more misogyny. Suzanne with her estranged husband and teenage boys, Laura with her religious father whom she blames for her mother’s death, Ruth, whose once strong relationship with Laura is torn apart by her falling in love with David, Enid who is hounded by the ‘big house’ landowners for being different and Eilene who falls foul of a local boy and is left to seek help from the crofter.
Whether the intent by Milles was to write a social commentary on how some attitudes don’t seem to change, despite the passing of time, whether it was meant to be a play about the intertwining of 3 storylines, or whether it is a clever piece of veiled misandry, one thing is for sure, The Croft is a solid piece of theatre which will leave audiences contemplating their own moral compass.