Tales of the Country, Shifnal Village Hall

Shire delight deserves to be fêted
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The Independent Culture

Nearly eight years ago, as Independent readers will know, Brian Viner and his family left Crouch End for Docklow Grange, a Victorian manor in Hereford-shire. No-one forced them out of north London; it was merely a bad dose of what he drolly calls "metropause". Out of this exodus came the column "Country Life" and a book, Tales of the Country. Viner – with a townie's experience of country dwelling – found inspiration flowing even when the septic tank was blocked.

Now, on a tiny set and with a large bundle of props, a handful of costumes and a babble of sound effects, life chez Viner is vividly dramatised by the resourceful Pentabus Theatre. In which other venue except homely Shifnal Village Hall, by the way, could local produce on stage be supplemented by coffee and homemade cake for the audience?

Viner is given a plausible portrayal by Matthew Bates. Whether enduring the frosty silences and putdowns that Viner, a "bugger from off" encountered in the King's Head or tending his magically sprouting magnolia, Bates brings Viner and his "twazzocky" humour to waggish life.

Sarah Stanley, as Viner's wife, Jane, is just the sort of sparky character to complement Viner's whimsical disposition. Embodying the pathos of exile to the country after much metropolitan soul-searching, Jane is the wife for whom the term "long-suffering" might have been coined. When she traps her foot in a heavy antique door the agony brings to the boil her frustration at their lack of money and excess of chicken shit.

A Year in Provence this is not but with such a sterling cast and so many comic vignettes there is plenty to engage the audience in Orla O'Loughlin's smartly paced production. Claire Vousden's role as Capable Woman takes her from middle-class Crouch Ender and church fête organiser to hilarious policeman. Particularly good as an aggressive dog-trainer and racist thug, as well as Owen, an inscrutable rustic with a touching tale to tell, Sean Carlsen shows his versatility. Iain Ridley is expected to play all three Viner children and 14 other roles – he does so with great enthusiasm.

The framework of Nick Warburton's deft adaptation may be a fête at which the Viners preside over the white elephant stall, but this show is far from a load of old junk. It's rather collectible, actually. Tales of the Country certainly won't do the Viners' rural break business any harm. Walkers intent on conquering Myarth or sitting atop Lord Hereford's Knob will be queuing up to rent their cottages. And this despite the alarming prospect of finding the dodgy dice game "Hands, thighs and bottoms", introduced by two happy-slappy holidaymakers, left alongside the welcome hamper. Not to mention the risk of being shagged by the dog.



Touring 16 May; Pleasance Theatre, London N7, (020 7609 1800) 11-16 May

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