Preview: Comfort Me With Apples, Hampstead Theatre, London NW3

No more cider for Rosie
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The Independent Culture

The edge of the Somerset Levels, where Leyshon grew up, is the setting for her new play, Comfort Me with Apples, which chronicles the return of an estranged daughter to the family farm and cider orchard. "The play explores decay and rural change, as the last of the small family farms dies out."

It is a subject close to Leyshon's heart: the village she grew up in had 23 family farms at the end the Second World War; by the time she was a teenager, in the 1970s, there were 14; now, there are just two. "We're seeing the last connection between human beings and the land dying out. It's a massive change in culture. Now there is one major farm in that area, and the rest has been turned into housing. All the knowledge, skills and crafts to do with working the land have gone."

Leyshon explored similar themes in her novel Black Dirt, which was long-listed for this year's Orange prize. "But", she warns, "I'm not romantic about it. The play is not soft - it's no Cider with Rosie. It's about the hard edge of that rural life and how embittered people can become."

The play is directed by Lucy Bailey, fresh from the Val Kilmer production of The Postman Always Rings Twice. She and Leyshon were keen to work together but were astounded, when they finally spoke on the phone, to realise that they had been in the same class at school. "One great advantage of that," says Leyshon, "is that she understands the rhythms of Somerset speech."

Leyshon hopes the play will draw attention to a part of the country's vanishing culture. "There's a reluctance in England to look at our own history, unless it's to do with kings and queens. There's a lot of richness we are overlooking."

Tomorrow to 12 November (020-7722 9301)

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