As with most new plays, I often find myself walking away thinking, ‘I really enjoyed that. Wish I knew what it was about.’ Common, by DC Moore, is one of those plays. By the intermission, I was convinced it was some sort of cross between The Count of Monte Cristo and The Wicker Man.
I’ve tried to avoid spoilers in this, but if you want to go to the National Theatre’s Common fresh, I’d advise against reading on!
The basic plot is Mary, having made her success in London, returns to the small county where she was born. It’s not a pleasant experience as she’d suffered terrible things there, but she returns to find her lover, Laura, and bring her away. Set during the Industrial Revolution, the British countryside is in spasm as new laws destroy the common land. The land which farmers had been relying on for centuries. In order to rescue Laura, Mary must go up against these new laws.
That’s basically what it’s about. Then there’s the Wicker Man scenes, death upon death, an animatronic talking crow, continuous fourth wall breaking… I mean, I understood the plot and themes as well as anyone, but I’m not sure how it all strung together if I’m entirely honest!
Reviewers from the Telegraph, Time Out and the Guardian seem to feel similar, most describing it as having powerhouse performances, but not quite understanding the plot! I was delighted to find that Michael Billington from the Guardian thought the same as me, though he had used the loftier example of “William Blake meets The Wicker Man.” I’ll admit, I’ve not read any William Blake, so I’ll take his word for it.
But, if you’ve read my Ricky and Morty Rick Sanchez post, you’ll know that so long as there’s a character I’ve fallen in love with, I’m hooked.
Enter stage left: Mary.
Mary, as the tagline says, is “the best liar, rogue, thief and faker in this whole septic isle. And now she’s back.”
Scenes of manipulation have always been fascinating to me. Watching one character trying to exert their will over another always gives you a real capacity to create powerful scenes. In Common, Mary pretends to be psychic, revealing the deepest darkest secret of a drunken Irishman in a local tavern. In fact, the man had recounted it himself a few days earlier in a different tavern where she’d been. He was just too drunk to remember.
It’s unfair of me, but I do judge all such scenes by Shakespeare’s Othello, where Igo manipulates the titular character and the amazingly crafted techniques by which he does it. Does DC Moore’s Mary compare? Well, no, obviously. But that doesn’t mean she isn’t really intriguing in their own right, using the fact that she is a powerful woman among men to the best of her advantage.
Mary’s continuous breaking of the fourth wall also presents another interesting aspect to the play. If this is being told through Mary’s eyes, how much of what we see is reliable? It may explain a few things; Mary’s portrayal as a hero despite her actions, her numerous deaths and, not to mention, the chatty crow.
The evolution of her character is wonderful to watch. Although I’ve read a few critics who describe her shifting character as ‘chaotic and confusing’, I disagree. She’s definitely an agent of the story and does change faces, but it seems almost in keeping with her manipulative personality. Her driving force, from start to finish, is to achieve a sense of peace and completion. In the first act, with her lover Laura. In the second act, with revenge.
Mary begins as something of an anti-hero and ends a true protagonist villain. It’s amazing how she butts heads with her lover, Laura, another fascinating character who in many ways is immovable as Mary. Played by the actress Cush Jumbo, Laura was well drawn but sadly underused.
All in all, I can’t say that I completely understood it, but I really enjoyed it. It’s beautiful to watch, the monologues are really well done and the acting was impressive. If you’re in London anytime before the August 5, I would recommend it.
Has anyone else seen Common? Any themes I missed? Or can someone explain it to me! Especially the scene in the ballroom between Mary and Heron… you know the one…