[Gwen Taylor portrays Enid, a ghost in this thriller interweaving time periods.]
Enid, branded a witch, won’t leave her croft cottage during the 19th century’s Highlands clearance and tubercular contagion; a century later, Ruth, facing terminal cancer, won’t leave the same croft for treatment in Glasgow. And in current time, Ruth’s daughter, Laura, has brought her lover to the remote croft, now labeled a holiday home. But as the character David states: “Buildings hold onto residue of past emotions … tragedy scars all” and therein begins a taste of what’s to come. Laura inevitably becomes the catalyst for the other two women’s stories.
“The Croft” is a ghost story as well as a story about relationships. It’s witty, it’s intense and, at times, tender. Milles has skillfully and adeptly plotted history and mystery with the painful memories of previous inhabitants' lives. Thankfully, Philip Franks is a remarkably committed director who develops characters with clarity and fluid blocking; he allows a good storyteller’s nuances and evolution as he engagingly teases an audience into captive involvement. (Franks also directed the previously reviewed Original Theatre’s “The Habit of Art.”)
Adrian Linford has designed a suggestive, if not contemporary set, able to be a West Highlands cottage inside and out from 1820 to 2020; it is fully complemented by Chris Davey’s moody lighting.
“The Croft” is stylistically savvy for its three very strong female characters. One of the UK’s best loved actresses, the 80-year-old, magnetic Gwen Taylor, is Enid, the unlikeable, miserable, but wholly understandable and resilient Highlands ghost. Caroline Harker Is Suzanne/Ruth, another Brit recognizable to American audiences ("Foyle’s War," "Murder in Suburbia," "Middlemarch"), a gracious, elegant and stand-alone actress. But it is Lucy Doyle as Laura/Eilene, who is truly exceptional. The novice of the group, she is quite stellar in her role as the play’s catalyst.