Common is a beautifully staged period drama set in rural England of the early 19th century. The DC Moore’s play deals with the annexation of common lands as well as England’s pagan past. The process of annexation (when collective agricultural land ownership was forcibly passed to individual) reached its peak by 1820. This dramatic social and economic change evoked an immediate reaction resulting in series of rebellions, and the country was sunk into chaos. On top of that, rural England experienced the outburst of ritual murders.
The play’s female protagonist is Mary (played by Anne-Marie Duff) . It is a very complex foul-mouthed character who happens to be a gay former prostitute turned soothsayer con-artist returning to her home village from rapidly industrialised London after a year when she was presumed dead.
At the beginning of the play her motives of coming back are left absolutely unclear. Is it her love for sister Laura, brilliantly portrayed by Cush Jumbo (Good Wife, Food Fight), or desire for revenge on her murderer or is she back to try and fight the enclosure?
Anne-Marie’s character is not only complex and twisted but is also overloaded with excessive symbolic significance, which certainly confuses the audience.What’s more, she seems to have superpowers to constantly rise from the dead as she successfully survives at least three assassinations on the stage.
When the purpose of her return is revealed, it is a let down, as Anne-Marie’s character Mary only reason to come back is to reclaim her love with sister Laura (Mary was adopted as a child hence not related to Laura), which is the reason she was thrown out of town when Laura’s brother tried to kill Mary. But when Mary offers Laura to escape to Boston and live together, Laura can’t make this step as she is tied to her community and the land.
I must admit that the staging of Common is absolutely spectacular. It has beautiful thought through decorations, live band and special effects that definitely send chills down the spine. The casting and the performance is strong, but what is lacking is coherence. I expected to see more of the history, but the nineteen-century enclosure system acts here only as a backdrop and the pagan rituals seem to be the essence of the play though the motives are barely explained.
The language of the play is not easy for the audience, the dialogues are full of inverted sentence structures with missing pronouns and pretentious language. At some points, the only words that were pronounced clearly were swearings.
Anne-Marie Duff is very entertaining in her blood-red dress and a hat, her character’s confidence is strong, she bursts with energy helping to forget that the play’s plot is in fact hardly understandable and frankly quite weak. The play is full of pagan rituals, constant brutal murders and swearings creating an image of a true chaos and ridiculousness with divergent ideas.
One thing is certain, it genuinely is one of the strangest plays I’ve ever seen.