Young Vic Theatre (venue)
16 March 2024 (released)
17 March 2023
Writer John Gardner once observed that there are only two plots: “A stranger rides into town” and “A man goes on a journey”. Further Than The Furthest Thing puts both these ideas into a single story about an isolated community forced into drastic action.
A South African jar manufacturer by the name is the stranger in question, arriving on a remote volcanic island with his young colleague Francis. His plans to set up a new crayfish factory there kick off a series of events which sees the local community – Francis’ aunt and uncle among them – forced onto the mainland after an eruption.
Director Jennifer Tang’s revival of Zinnie Harris’s 2000 play is very much a curate’s egg. A strong cast led by Jenna Russell as the redoubtable Mill and Cyril Nri playing her tortured husband Bill find resonance in this tale of sacrifice, dislocation and the price of doing what must be done. As the capitalist looking to exploit the islanders, Gerald Kyd is a menacing antagonist who finally realises the human cost of his innate desperation to expand his empire.
Harris’ work is far from perfect. It has pools of heavy symbolism amid wearisome swathes of exposition and a romantic subplot which barely makes an impression on the overall storyline. The spots of humour do little to dispel the slow pace and the unearned pathos in the final act is used to give this play more dramatic heft than the script has hitherto deserved.
Tang makes things worse by deadening the dialogue, giving most of the characters a diverse set of accents, some of which are denser than a pavement slab. Veracity is all well and good but, when it gets in the way of comprehension, there should be some audience assistance like projected text (as seen last year in A Dead Body In Taos) or the surtitles used by opera houses.
The staging is cute – swirling projections and lengths of cloth - but ultimately adds little to the overall effect of the play. In keeping with Harris’ message of the islanders’ stripped back lifestyle where an egg is a topic of conversation in itself, this is not a showy production but could have done a little more to immerse us in – or even introduce us to - the very different settings before and after the interval.
Further Than The Furthest Thing is at the Young Vic until 29 April.
Photo credit: Marc Brenner