John Clare meets the Wicker Man in this dark vision of 18th-century rural England

Words: Damien Gabet Photos: Johan Persson

National Theatre Common review

There was a time in England when stone walls, hedgerows and fences barely existed. The poet John Clare wrote, in beautiful detail, about a countryside he was free to roam. This was possible because of an open-field farming system, where bottom-class yeoman exercised their civil right to work the land of a lord, but then keep its fruits. Then came enclosure. Keeping the common folk out not only harmed their subsistence needs, but also their community customs.

National Theatre Common review

It's amid the conflict between lord and serf that writer DC Moore tells the story of conwoman and pseudo soothsayer Mary (Anne-Marie Duff). She's returned from London to her birthplace – a village in Northamptonshire – to confront a man who once tried to kill her, but also to rekindle her love with his sister, Laura (Cush Jumbo). The world she unsuspectingly enters is full of dangerous pagan rituals: torch toting, masked groups gather to perform human sacrifices. A suitably dark tone is set for the revenge she seeks.

National Theatre Common review

The heady mix of carnivalesque set-pieces – with their foreboding percussive backing track – and Mary's fantastically acerbic tongue (so much swearing!) are without doubt visually and audibly arresting. But the sum of these parts cannot help to cover for the fact that the plot feels disjointed and takes aberrant turns towards the downright odd (Mary is killed, then inexplicably rises from the grave). Not the most fluid of DC Moore's work, but it certainly is affecting. For that reason, I suspect this one will linger longer in the memory that you might first expect.

Until 5 August
Hospitality We like the intimate Gielgud Room for bespoke packages which include pre- and post-show champagne, canapés or fine dining
Eat & drink Sea Containers at Mondrian London, Spring, Skylon
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National Theatre Common review

National Theatre Common review

National Theatre Common review