Further than the Furthest Thing, written by Zinnie Harris and directed by Jess Haygarth and Aggie Dolan, tells the story of the inhabitants of an island swallowed by a volcanic eruption, and forced to re-join the outside world. Their calm, predictable lives are gone, and in their struggle to integrate with 1960s English culture, the islanders’ old skeletons come falling out of their closets. It’s every small-town story you’ve ever heard, except they’re potentially-inbred islanders, and everyone is complicit in mass murder.
Although the production began with an incomprehensible musical number, it quickly drew the audience in with an exposé of what it is to live 2,000 miles away from anything else. Mill (Tiffany Garnham) is particularly endearing as she carries on about eggs and pictures cut from magazines. She and the other characters reveal themselves to us piecemeal, allowing the audience to get to know them through their actions in the present, rather than the secrets of their pasts. While the plot is slow-moving, it forces the audience to develop a sense of kinship with the characters, as we hope for their development and exploration of the deeper psychological issues that plague them.
Oscar Gilbert in the role of Bill gave a wonderfully real portrayal of mental illness, and what it can be like to carry the weight of a dark past. As Bill first seeks comfort in religion, we see how the transition to ‘civilisation’ breaks him down beyond hope. On the flipside of the coin, Rebecca (Anna Swinton) works through the trauma of her rape, and the play closes on her return to the island, presumably to lead a peaceful life.
Tiffany Garnham was brilliant, playing Mill with sensitivity and depth, showing herself to be a character of far more substance than the mere sheltered islander she is initially portrayed as. Rufus Love as Francis played a conflicted and complicated character, who does his best to adapt to his new circumstances, despite the pain he went through to reach them.
One of the strengths of the play is its determination to give weight to every side of an argument. We see the perspective of a man who kills an infant, and the woman whose baby it is; we’re shown the difficulties of the islanders adapting to a new way of life, and the viewpoint of the man who forced them into it. The play touches on many complex issues, such as mental health, sexual assault, the pressures of capitalism, and corruption. It’s refreshing to see a production where such issues aren’t shied away from.
Ultimately, each character is shown to be a victim. Francis doesn’t quite fit anywhere, Rebecca carries the weight of her assault, Mr Hansen (Harry Richards) has good intentions that lead to disastrous consequences, and Bill and Mill are victims to their pasts. Each has secrets that threaten to tear them apart.
The original score, composed by Sam Williams, brilliantly complemented the dialogue, and heightened the audience’s immersion in the story. From smoother pastoral sounds to more mechanical, tense music, the score took what was already a gripping tale, and gave it a fullness that only music can bring.
Overall, the production was very well put together. The cast and production team did an excellent job, giving the audience a story that left us a bit shaken, and haunted by the same ghosts that haunt the characters. Although the ending was a bit unrealistic – how can islanders return to their home after it’s been used for nuclear testing? – the play brilliantly captured the weight of past trauma and mistakes, asking what truly is the ‘right’ thing to do when every option has been exhausted.
Reviewer: Lucie Vovk