Our Big Land

Reviewer's Rating

The writer Dan Allum, himself brought up in a caravan, was inspired to write the story by the two mysterious and independent Gypsies, a mother and a son, who used to live next to them but rarely communicated with anyone. He went on to explore the history of his own Romany Travellers in a story of a similar plot, refined with ethnic allusions such as traditional songs and sinister customs.

The staging of the theatre recreates the Gypsy caravan campsite. The old storyteller Oceania is observing young Sophie, and outsider, playing nearby. When curiosity draws the girl closer, she is told that she has got a Gypsy heart and that is the reason that her own mother fails to express her love to the daughter. Sophie’s interaction with the family symbolises the inevitable intervention of progress into the centuries-old order of the tribal life. Oceania stubbornly opposes any novelties, but turns a blind eye to her son Roman taking help from Sophie with school homework. The mother even encourages the inception of feelings between the two young souls as she believes that Sophie will be the next keeper of the sacred storytelling shawl. Eventually Sophie becomes a part of a small family and plays an important role in its falling apart. Even though a spectator could figure out the development of the characters from the story, this is not conveyed through actors’ playing, possibly due to the limited performance time of the play.

However, if not the writing and acting, it’s the direction and mostly sound and visual effects that make the play worth watching. With only three actors, there is no need for conventional curtains and this creates an intimate feeling, as the characters use the dark corners of the stage to transform their appearance or just sit still when not being parts of the scene. The atmosphere is enriched with mesmerising Romany singing, magical and mantra-like, and the beautifully choreographed dancing movements. The serene camp is decorated with the natural elements to signify the people’s closeness to nature with a contour of a caravan on the background and a model of one on the stage. All of a sudden it is transformed into an occupied territory by a few strokes of red-and-white “do not cross” tape. In the final scene the spectators are blinded with the light of the official tracks jeopardising the life of the now abandoned Oceania who is resolved to defend her past as well as the future that she does not have.