Death is everywhere in the Welsh valley where Will and his brother Tom work the unforgiving soil on a remote family farm. Millions have just been slaughtered in the first world war, and Will is about to die of the consumption that killed their mother. Young Tom, in love with village outcast Buddug, the sin-eater’s daughter, dreams of the future and is determined to really live before he dies of loneliness like his father. “I can feel myself spoiling,” he says, as if he is a pint of milk on the turn. Into their lives comes Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who, following the death of his son, is desperate to believe in the afterlife and to prove “the dead do not die”.
Lucinda Coxon’s play is strange and beautiful – managing to be as hard as ice and ethereal at the same time. Robin Don’s brilliant design offers a world cleaved in two: the brothers’ sparse kitchen contrasts with Buddug’s bed, which is like something out of a fairytale. Over both hang frilled clouds resembling ectoplasm.
The sound design, too, is superb and atmospheric. Birds sing as if in warning; icebergs crack and break. It could all be mystical overload, and it is certainly not cool, metropolitan and fashionable, but Simon Stokes’s canny production keeps things bubbling nicely in a drama whose rural otherworldliness ensures that this is a play less ordinary.
Oliver Ryan and Rhys Meredith are excellent as the brothers at war; Anwen Hughes-Roberts gives Buddug down-to-earth charm, and Malcolm Rennie lends Arthur, a man who must believe that there is a bridge between life and death, the air of a surprised and tragic walrus.
By Lyn Gardener
The Guardian, Thursday 6th March