EHF: Sycamore Grove @ Banshee Labyrinth, Edinburgh
This new suburban horror four-hander challenges norms of domesticity, but lacks clarity in key areas
Sycamore Grove is a classic four-hander about domesticity and the occult. Hannah (Cara Watson) and her husband, Ben (Conor O'Dwyer), visit Hannah's long-time best friend Charlotte (Rebecca Wilkie) and her husband Colin (Nicholas Alban). Charlotte and Colin have everything – the perfectly remodelled house, the great job, etc – everything except a baby.
With its staging often abstracted to account for the play's various supernatural events, the play constructs a compelling domestic portrait. In genre, it seems like some kind of cis-hetero gothic. When Colin and Charlotte reveal the occult secret to their success, Ben is taken in and Hannah isn't. As Ben becomes more and more dependent on the magic, Hannah starts to lose her sense of trust and safety with him.
To borrow from the play's language of home renovation, Sycamore Grove has great bones. As Hannah, Watson is highly believable, adopting a naturalistic, detailed affect that gets me on her side from the start. Overall though, the performances feel strained, and perhaps constrained. The performances are haunted by the emotional uncertainty that comes from a fictional world that isn't quite as fleshed out as it could be. Structurally, too much is taken for granted as to why Hannah feels the way she does – the conflict plateaus early, and pivotal moments fall victim to that classic trap wherein something happens because the plot demands it.
As the respective husbands, O'Dwyer (Ben) and Alban (Colin) paint a recognisable picture of the ways in which misogyny hurts men. Hannah and Charlotte compete for status through their performances of femininity and wifehood – or, rather, Charlotte works to make Hannah feel that she must compete. Who has the better house? Whose husband has the better job? Whose nursery is painted the best colour?
Sycamore Grove could do with so much more of everything: more time, more practical effects, more space, more dramaturgy. In the 60-minute runtime, the play exposes the nerves of heteronormativity, masculinity, capitalism, and so on, but does not manage to address them with clarity.
Sycamore Grove, Banshee Labyrinth, Edinburgh run ended; part of Edinburgh Horror Festival