The Field, Tricycle Theatre, London <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fivestar -->

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The Independent Culture

J B Keane's 1965 play The Field gained fame with the 1990 movie adaptation starring Richard Harris. Its power as a piece of theatre is re-established by Roisin McBrinn's deeply satisfying revival.

Set in rural Ireland, the piece focuses on a four-acre parcel of land that "the Bull", a tenant farmer with a short fuse, has been renting from a poor widow. When she decides to put it up for auction, he assumes that the purchase will be his by natural right, because he has devotedly nurtured the field over the years, transforming it from a rocky wasteland to a lush pasture. So he's furiously affronted that the owner intends to sell the plot to the highest bidder.

An unshaven, intimidating presence, Lorcan Cranitch's excellent, cane-wielding Bull inspires fear in the close-knit rural community and uncomfortable mixed feelings in the audience. Partly, he's a tragic figure, unable to adjust to the new order in a changing Ireland. At the same time, he's an outrageous bully who will stoop to anything to get what he wants - violence, blackmail, bribes and a vicious beating-up of the newcomer that turns accidentally murderous.

A humane, humorous mix of tolerance and stringency, the play leaves you in no doubt that the villagers' terrified refusal to help the police with their inquiries is disgraceful. But Keane's art is not essentially condemnatory. It's warmly appreciative of the comedy of human fallibility.

As Bull and his thick, sycophantic sidekick of a son (Eamonn Owens) wait to ambush the rival bidder, their conversation is a politically incorrect delight. Anxious to marry into land, the son reveals that he's courting a girl whose nine acres and milking prowess are, we deduce, a bigger pull than her beauty.

The Bull, it emerges, has been banned from his conjugal rights for 18 years by a wife who has never forgiven him for shooting a tinker's pony she had allowed to graze on his precious field. For a moment, he's almost endearing as he contemplates the mystery of why installing mod cons ("I put in electric light and bought the television. I built that goddamned bathroom... for her") has failed to have the desired melting effect.

The excellent cast deliver performances rich in insight and idiosyncrasy, particularly Tony Rohr as the dilapidated barfly and Rita Hammill as the publican's spirited spouse who is sorely frustrated by her small-minded community.

To 1 July (020-7328 1000)

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