Published in the Guardian
ZINNIE Harris's remarkable play is 12 years old, and shares something of its elemental language and austere settling with David Harrower's play Knives in Hens. Further Than the Furthest Thing takes place on an Atlantic island where years of isolation have created a community that is cautious, plain and blunt. In Harrower's play, it's a flash of imagination that disrupts the old order; here, it's the arrival of modernity.
When a volcano erupts, as it did in Tristan da Cunha in 1961, the islanders are evacuated to England where they're forced to shift from a primitive subsistence economy to industrial capitalism virtually overnight. Where once they tended their "patches", now they work in a factory making glass jars.
Like Harrower, Harris does not romanticise a way of life that is harsh and unforgiving but, in the abrupt shift of location between her two acts, she captures a yearning sense of what we have sacrificed (community, belonging, landscape) in the name of progress. In a story based on the experiences of her own family, she gives voice to that which is lost when two countrymen can no longer talk to each other without first making an appointment.
If the play is good, James Brining's production - his last before taking over the West Yorkshire Playhouse - is stunning. Neil Warmington's set, a vast pool of water, is ravishingly lit by Philip Gladwell, with ripples reflected on the back wall by artist Elizabeth Ogilvie. Here, splashing in the waters, Ann Louise Ross leads a cast of five with a mesmerising performance as Mill Laverello, whose sense of justice drives her campaign to return to her island home. Intolerant of falsity and pretension, she's as pragmatic as Mother Courage and an ocean more heartbreaking.
© Mark Fisher, 2012
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