Ed Harris makes his West End debut in Buried Child, a macabre tale of middle-American despondency.
The latest stage adaptation of the seminal work by writer Sam Shepard tackles the plight of working class America, deliberately timeless and cleverly poignant. Depicting the unravelling of a superficially nuclear family, led by an astounding performance by Harris as the increasingly decrepit head of the household Dodge, it plays on the typical family dynamics; a struggle for power, distance (both emotional and geographical), and unconditional love.
Shepard uses these to dramatically question the notion of the American Dream, as grandson Vince – played by English actor Jeremy Irvine – arrives with girlfriend Shelley in tow. Shelley, wonderfully portrayed by Game Of Thrones’ actress Charlotte Hope, is forced to see through the vast cracks in the family veneer.
Steeped with metaphor, the plot is as dark as the set design, which even when moving from a thunderous storm to morning sun remains frayed and bleak. Attention to detail is key, from the US plugs on appliances to a particularly eerie leaking roof. It provides the perfect backdrop for creepy turns by Barnaby Kay as Tilden and Gary Shelford as Bradley, emotionally and physically crippled respectively.
As the plot thrusts the often-unwitting audience further into the plight of the superficially average family unit, the entire cast carry the weight of the dense atmosphere. Golden Globe winner Amy Madigan, as the venomous Halie, perfectly portrays the increased despair and the subsequent self-denial that threatens to pull the family further apart. It’s mirrored in Harris’ understated anger, as he remains front and centre throughout the entire production.
The production’s relentless depression is met with perfectly timed comedic turns, particularly in Dodge’s genuine disbelief in, and ultimate acceptance of the state of his family. Yet underneath these sporadic laughs is an extremely dark representation of modern life, first presented in 1978 and still extremely relevant today.
Led by exceptional performance by the entire cast, with Harris and Madigan effortlessly guiding, Buried Child is a terrifyingly gripping insight into modern futility.
Buried Child is playing now for a strictly limited time at London’s Trafalgar Studios. Tickets are available through Ticketmaster.co.uk.