Antler Theatre’s Lands is a fantastic, quietly intelligent allegory about times when help offered by those who care about you may come from the right place, but not necessarily be quite the right kind.
Leah likes order. And puzzles. And similar systems where everything makes perfect rational sense, has a tangible and fixed place it belongs, and can be accounted for. Sophie – on the other hand – is in a purgatory of sorts: a trampoline-shaped hole which she’s struggling to leave all by herself. It’s much easier – if still physically demanding and exhausting – to carry on bouncing than face the prospect of landing. In order to do so, it’d mean she would have to admit to herself that a) she has some sort of problem, and b) she needs to do something about it.
Lands is a fantastic, quietly intelligent allegory not so much directly about depression (or admittedly another similar mental disorder, it is left undefined), but about times when help offered by those who care about you may come from the right place, but not necessarily be quite the right kind.
The trampoline metaphor is smart and poignant; everything about it is discomforting in exactly the right way. The incessant noise of the bouncing fast becomes jarring and punishing, effectively alluding to the commotion eternally going on within Sophie’s head. The sheer act of watching an actress bounce, with only minor pauses, for the best part of an hour is tiring in itself – it almost enters live art territory with you wondering how much longer she can actually sustain it. And also on the occasions when, occasionally pretty violently, Leah attempts to remove her from it.
In the world Antler Theatre creates, we exist have our own ‘land’ – independent and exclusive space where we feel most at home. The trampoline and the jigsaw table represent the lands of Leah and Sophie, but it doesn’t mean they should always stay within them. That’d be what they want, but not what they need. When our characters leave their stations, we see moments of genuine poignancy. After many (increasingly desperate) attempts to coax her off the trampoline, Sophie finally leaves of her somewhat own accord. She helps Leah with the puzzle, listening to her system: she starts with the edges, and fills in the details later. Leah doesn’t manage to be sensitive enough to the needs of Sophie though (they fall out over the categorisation of a puzzle piece!), and the latter quickly returns to where she feels most safe but is slowly wearing her out.
Lands works so well due to the two extremely effective performances. Considering the writing is far from naturalistic, both actresses afford their characters real depths and tangible, relatable, distinctively human nuances. I love the fact that it is as much a piece about Leah’s journey as it is about Sophie’s, and the former (Leah Brotherhead – they’ve made the decision to use real first-names in the piece) commands an effortless and quietly devastating presence as someone who wants the best for her friend, but doesn’t really have the resources or knowledge to know what to do.
One of the key take-outs of Lands is simply that no one’s perfect, no one can exist entirely separately from each other and that compromise (and really listening to each other) is the key to everything. You may/will have heard this before, but this production packages it up within a fascinating, engaging and sensitive framework. It doesn’t ever feel worthy or patronising, and yet the message is loud and clear. Highly recommended.