As state-of-the-nation dramas go, they don’t usually ask you not to be a c*nt in the first two minutes. Nadia Fall’s production of Samson Hawkins’ Village Idiot, opens with a welcoming start but proceeds to offend everything that moves. Yet this is equal-opportunities offence.
Village Idiot is the new play from Ramps on the Moon, a collective that seeks to normalise deaf and disabled people making theatre. It is startlingly rare to see inclusive casting done this well.
We are in Syresham, and the “townies” have arrived to bulldoze the village, making way for HS2. There’s something of Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem here, with a unique mix of sitcom humour and drag.
There has been no Diversity Training in Syresham and Hawkin’s witty characters do not speak to please. Look away if racist jokes and ableism put you off, but Hawkin’s writing is self-aware and never self-conscious. This a bawdy romp through rural England with serious questions about identity and modernity.
As Barbara (a wonderfully spikey Eileen Nicholas) tries to cling to her world, we soon realise that all the characters have something to lose. This “rock called progress” doesn’t seem to offer Syresham much, after all, HS2 won’t even be stopping in the village.
Lily Arnold’s evocative design delivers a dense, deep forest that gives us a sense of Syresham’s 1000-year roots. The stakes are high as the engineering work moves in and threatens all.
Maximilian Fairley steals the show as an all-singing-all-dancing Harry, who falls for Debbie (glorious and magic Faye Wiggan). Joseph Langdons’ Liam, left behind by his contemporaries, intrigues the most and you wonder what is next for him when the houses are demolished. While great jokes make the audience squirm, Hawkin’s characters are fully fleshed and lovable.
Fall’s raucous production of this rambunctious script leaves us wondering why corporate decisions exclude those whom they affect. Debbie and Harry are spoken about like they are not there but so too is the village of Syresham.
A surprising shift towards the climate crisis draws parallels with Complicité’s Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead. If the latter was an eco-noir, then Village Idiot is an eco-comedy. With stunning costumes, also by Arnold, absurdist animals fight the destruction of their habitat.
Finally, echoes of John Singer Sargent’s Carnation seep onto the stage, as this very English comedy concludes pleasingly. The characters might ask “What has progress ever done for me” but progress is plain to see.
Unlike Jerusalem or Drive Your Plough, in Village Idiot you will laugh and holler, and you might even win a can of Strongbow as this lovable lot of newbies and veterans deliver an entertaining play that sings an environmental chorus.
Village Idiot is at Theatre Royal Stratford East until 6th May 2023