Ed Harris makes a mesmerising London debut in Sam Shepherd’s Pulitzer prize winning family drama ‘Buried Child'. Set on a farmstead in Illinois, he plays wizened patriarch ‘Dodge’ alongside his real-life wife, Amy Madigan. They are a magnetic duo, entirely convincing as a couple who curse at each other and collude with each other as the rain pours down and their home rots away.

‘Buried Child’ was written in 1978 during a crisis of confidence in America, with unemployment rising and political dirty tricks dominated the headlines. Though it has distinct similarities to Pinter’s ‘The Home-coming’ it remains a thoroughly American classic. It trashes the American dream of idyllic families and corn-fed sons heading out to make a good living from hard work. Here is an odd collection of disenfranchised men with no jobs and broken relationships.

Dodge (Ed Harris) is already on stage as the audience gather at Trafalgar studios, curled on the sofa, unshaven and sickly, hiding furtively beneath his faded baseball cap. He spits phlegm into a tin pan before staring back at his TV screen, fumbling for his bottle stuffed down the back of the sofa. Yet as bleak is Dodge is, he is cynical and funny too, with a faded arrogance that flashes from the carcass of this extraordinary physical performance.

His wife Hali (Amy Madigan) is bright and brittle by contrast. She is at times dramatic and frightening – her face rigid with an angry grief as she clings desperately onto the fantasy of her perfect lost son, battering her family with her white-belt Christianity. Her two grown-up sons are a disturbing duo, one-legged bullying Bradley played by Gary Shelford and mud-soaked Tilden (Barnaby Kay) who appears to have had an emotional break-down. As leaks spring in the roof and Tilden’s son, Vince (Jeremy Irvine) appears at the door after six years away it’s clear worse is to come.

What drives the narrative of course is the terrible secret buried in the back yard. And it is Vince’s girlfriend, Shelley, the ‘modern’ woman from LA who becomes our detective, unearthing the families rotting core. Charlotte Hope is definitely one to watch with a fresh twist of power and vulnerability.

Scott Elliott’s production of this American classic feels entirely relevant in our time of political upheaval. It runs at nearly three hours but never flags, taught with pain and the energy that keeps us vibrating with life, right up to the moment of our death.

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