Harry Egan and Charlotte Bate in Blackthorn. Photo: Anthony Robling
Blackthorn by Charley Miles – Summerhall, Edinburgh
Charley Miles’s debut play was first staged in 2016 and she has already received recognition for it. Decor-free and in-the-round at Summerhall, there is no place to hide, but Blackthorn stands up as a well-structured and powerful work. The two characters, Him and Her, appear as children, the first born to their Yorkshire village for 20 years, and then in scenes that leap forward in time as their turbulent relationship plays out. While Him (Harry Egan) stays in the village and becomes a farmer, Her (Charlotte Bate) struggles with the restrictions of village life, leaves for London bu eventually returns. Their failure to connect despite their deep links, recurs again and again over thirty years and more. It embodies the deepening disconnection between urban and rural in Britain, and the uprooting of generations from the place where they were born, whether they stay or not.
Miles’ themes would not work unless they were embodied in believable, complex characters, and they are. Egan’s character is aggressive, confrontational and unable to communicate, while Bate’s is self-deluding and incapable of settling. The two actors put in performances that are a joy to watch, effortlessly using their physical presence to transform the small stage into a field, a pub, a wedding. Their roots, like the blackthorn, are invisible but every bush is connected under the surface by a network that is very hard to drag from the earth. Miles has written a harsh, tender and, at times, heart-breaking play which identifies her as one to follow.