Review by Carmel Shortall
Ron Hart’s last unproduced play, Country Girl, received its premiere at the Roundhouse on August 8th 2011 as part of the Camden Fringe. The play was finally staged by Carmel Arts and son, Daniel Hart, who wrote the music for the play as well as directing. The play also starred Daniel’s wife, Sigalit, as the eponymous country girl. So a real family affair then and a labour of love, as Daniel himself explained before the performance in the packed Roundhouse Studio.
Crackly Edwardian gramophone music sets the scene as scullery maid, Lizzie, enters her circumscribed basement world and tells us that she’s a country girl at heart and doesn’t like the dust of London where she has been sent, at age 14, after her mother’s death. She tells us how her mother – also in service and aged 14 – gave birth to her on the kitchen table at the start of the new century. Unusually, she was allowed to keep her baby and Lizzie has inherited her world but stands at the threshold of a new one.
Now it is New Year, 1914: “They say there’s goin’ to be a war. That’ll be excitin’…” but the war will bring change to Lizzie’s life in ways she cannot begin to comprehend at the start of 1914. In one sense, Lizzie’s story could be interpreted as a metaphor for the changing relationship and balance of power between the classes as a result of WWI. “There’s a war on – people got to clean their own boots.” But Lizzie poignantly clings to one pair of boots in particular and the end of the play finds her still in the basement but it is her choice now.
Country Girl combines a range of song, music and verse to subtly provide texture and feeling – a backdrop which allows the illiterate and uneducated Lizzie to fill in the gaps in her emotional life that she doesn’t have words to describe. It is sensitively done and its success is a mark of how close to his father’s material Daniel Hart has become.
Sigilit Hart is radiant yet vulnerable as Lizzie: a suitably touching heroine; missing her mother, looking for a father and above all looking for somewhere to belong. The play is simply but effectively staged – a few pieces of furniture and a bottle of beer convey all that is needed.
The premiere had a rapturous reception at the Roundhouse but a live performance is only the first stage for Country Girl. There are plans to adapt it for radio, theatre in education, animation and children’s audio books but, hopefully, it will appear again on stage sometime soon.