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Martin Buber famously said he could not discuss God, only relationships to God. “All real living is meeting.” Lands begins with one woman, Leah (Leah Brotherhead) happily absorbed in a thousand piece puzzle. Next to her is her friend Sophie (Sophie Steer) who is bouncing on a small trampoline. From this bizarre premise, Antler delivers a big play. Jaz Woodcock-Stewart has a strong sense of rhythm and movement and she directs this two-hander loosely, leaving space for the audience to feel involved in the dilemma facing Leah and Sophie. How to live together when we each feel the need to impose our needs, our priorities on the other?
Antler defines itself as a company, “telling stories through theatre and film”. They won the IdeasTap Underbelly Award and the Pulse Festival Suitcase Prize and were nominated for the Stage Best Ensemble Award. Woodcock-Stewart is the co-artistic director of Antler and Lands was conceived in collaboration with the Bush Theatre and the actresses Leah Brotherhead and Sophie Steer.
The story begins in a very English way. Leah expects Sophie to respect the rules of engagement central to British society. In this example, Leah expects Sophie to clean up her rubbish. That is the base line. If Sophie obeys, civilised life goes on. But Sophie transgresses. She doesn’t clean up her mess because she’s jumping on a trampoline. This small incident is enough to strip the veneer of tolerance between the two women and I bit my lip more than once as I watched Leah alternate between hurt and a compulsive urge to ‘fix’ Sophie. Does Leah (and we) need the rules of engagement in order to have a relationship with another human being? Sophie is wonderful at being vulnerable and stubborn and she isolates herself on the one-person island that is her trampoline. One of the best scenes was the short moment when Sophie after a long suspense finally gathers the courage to step off the trampoline and engage with Leah. The connection is lost in a way that would happen anywhere, in any culture. Sophie even sings the American classic folk tune “This Land is Your Land” in a sorrowful call for tolerance.
Antler goes deeper. Lands ends with a literal ray of light. Beyond tolerance and rules of behaviour, what we need to live happily together is to yield. Just when we think nothing can change, that an hour and a half later, the two women are exactly back where they started, something happens. Leah and Sophie show us what love (and weariness) can do.
Lands continues at the Bush Theatre till 1st December