Nell Leyshon’s rural idyll under an avalanche of apples

It is autumn, the trees are already bare and the apples ripe; in fact, in this Catalan production of Nell Leyshon’s Comfort Me With Apples they are positively gleaming: an impassioned red, a vivid green, and that strange pale Fuji variety that taste like soap. The plentiful presence of the fruit, tumbling from the heavens in a multicoloured avalanche, contributes to the visual poetry of the production, retitled Si mireu el vent d’on ve due to the alleged lack of translation for the original title, which is taken from the Bible.
The pretty apples are ironic: Leyshon says her 2005 work examines the drudgery of rural life that she experienced growing up in a poor village in Somerset. Blunt, stoical characters of admirable resilience and repressed emotions watch their apple business rot in the face of globalised forces. There are hundreds of varieties of apples grown in England, says Leyshon, yet only a handful of them are sold in supermarkets – those most attractive to the eye rather than to the taste buds.
The tragic grandeur of the Catalan mise en scène, with some very experimental lighting, effectively evokes the relationship between claustrophobia and agoraphobia in rural life. And were this manipulative idyll undermined by the rough, brusque performances that the original play demands, it would have been interesting. Unfortunately, apart from the matriarch Irene – quite a brutal woman in the text yet who here is mesmerising, with long silver hair and the aires of a fallen angel, – the other characters seem a bit uncomfortable in their roles; their corporeal manifestation of repression overplayed to such heights that the slow-witted Len is imagined to be mentally ill.
To be fair, the actors didn’t have much to work with: “a lot is said between the lines of my play,” Leyshon says, although sometimes you suspect that there is more smoke than mirrors. In this opaque light, some attempt to reveal meaning in its translation is understandable. But the numerous impassioned teary-eyed speeches and sudden bursts of action in this production tended to induce apathy not empathy.

Si mireu el vent d’on ve (Comfort Me With Apples)
by Nell Leyshon / directed by Fernando Bernués
Teatre Lliure – Montjuïc
until 18/03
in Catalan