A man, bleary-eyed and just a bit dishevelled, sits at the breakfast table and tells us about his life on the remote farm he shares with its owner, his arthritic, older wife. Also unseen, at the top of a hill on The Farm’s land, a mysterious recluse has set himself up in a shed to write enigmatic notes and pursue a sideline in exotic flora. For twenty years or so, this manage-a-trois has held firm, until a visit from the lady of the manor, with an eye on setting up a hunting lodge, brings long-buried questions of ownership, rights and inheritance, bubbling to the surface.
Written in 1985, Nick Darke’s Bud (at The Kings Head Theatre until 8 July) depends on a sense or rural isolation swept aside by 21st century communications. With just a hint of Norman Bates in his Bud, Neil Sheffield captures the comedy and tragedy and freedoms and frustrations attendant on a farmer’s lot, as the suspicions of locals about his motives for marrying Myrna gnaw away at him. There’s humour – of a dark hue – in Bud, but the paranoia grips him more and more as his tale unfolds.
At less than an hour, Darke’s play is a tightly drawn study of a man struggling with a way of life under threat and who feels compelled to retreat into his own fevered fantasies in order to escape. There’s a rhythm to the writing – peppered as it is with the local argot – that pleases the ear, but the suspense never quite builds sufficiently for the denouement to have the force it would have in a more explicitly manipulative playwright’s hands. It is that forbearance on Darke’s part that saves Bud from being something of a potboiler and turns it into a sad, funny, slightly frightening, reflection on life in rural communities.