Saturday Play - A Month in the Country
A Month In The Country
By J. L. Carr
Dramatised by Dave Sheasby
WW1 survivor Tom Birkin spends a summer uncovering a medieval mural in the Yorkshire village of Oxgodby. Here he discovers treasures, riches he thought the war had blown away for ever.
BIRKIN ..... RUPERT EVANS
ALICE ..... HATTIE MORAHAN
KEACH ..... STEPHEN CRITCHLOW
MOON ..... BLAKE RITSON
KATHY ..... LEAH BROTHERHEAD
STATION MASTER ..... TONY BELL
Produced by David Hunter
Tom Birkin, a Londoner has survived the Great War but is left with a stammer, a nervous twitch, and vivid nightmares. He is given the summer job of uncovering a mediaeval wall-painting in the church of Oxgodby, Yorkshire. When he arrives he discovers that another Southerner, Charles Moon, is already there. Moon is trying to uncover the bones of a medieval ancestor of the local woman (now deceased) whose will stipulated that funds be allocated from her estate both for this and for Birkin's task, and to find out the reason for their burial outside the church grounds. The fact of working for the same employer draws the two men together, and they share their horrific war-time experiences over early morning cups of tea in Moon's tent, bonding in what soon becomes a strong, delicately understated, friendship.
The work on the wall-painting progresses and Birkin begins to fall in love with Alice, the beautiful wife of the cold and unsympathetic vicar. This love is kept a secret for a long time, although it is sensed by Moon, who eggs Birkin on in his admiration of her. Meanwhile Birkin slowly uncovers the wall-painting, which shows the righteous trooping smugly off to heaven while the damned dive towards hell. One man in particular, a fair-haired man with extremely distinct features, catches his interest, and the interest of Moon, who comes up the ladder sometimes to see Birkin at work.
Birkin tries to tell the vicar's wife of his love for her, but she takes fright and does not rise to the challenge. The vicar, perhaps suspecting Birkin's attachment to his wife, tries to get rid of him as soon as possible once he has finished the work. He reveals, for a change, a human side to himself in a confrontation with Birkin, making Birkin have some sympathy for a man who finds it difficult being vicar to a group of basically irreligious people, and leaving him chastened and regretful over judging the man so harshly.
Birkin is roped in by Moon to help him dig up Miss Hebron's ancestor. The mystery of the burial outside sacred ground, which in medieval theology ensured that the dead would go to hell, is finally solved when Moon finds a metal crescent attached to the man's skeleton: during the Crusades the man was captured by the Turks and forced to convert to Islam at sword point, and this was the reason for his becoming an outcast on returning home. It is Moon, not Birkin, who with the immediate instinct of the pariah recognises that this is Birkin's falling man in the church wall painting. Moon also removes the incriminating crescent tag so that the man's disgrace will not continue in the modern age.
The play ends with Birkin and Alice, both in love with the other but both unable to confess it, he because of paralysing shyness and she out of a sense of duty to her charmless husband. The next day Alice and the vicar have gone from the village, and the glorious summer is over. With a delicate balance of resignation and a sense of relief Birkin spends a last few days wandering dazedly around the fields, then he leaves.
From the novel by J.L. Carr dramatised by Dave Sheasby.
Cast: Rupert Evans, Hattie Morahan, Blake Ritson, Stephen Critchlow, Leah Brotherhead and Tony Bell. Director: David Hunter
Shortly before his death in February of this year Dave Sheasby sat in a hospice bed with a borrowed laptop and completed this dramatisation - a project long in the planning and dear to his heart. It follows on from well-received dramatisations of Erich Maria Remarque's novel ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT and Kurt Vonnegut's iconic novel SLAUGHTERHOUSE 5 (both Radio 3 and both exceptional in having a repeat on Radio 4) -adding to an already impressive list of original plays and comedies including APPLE BLOSSOM AFTERNOON (Giles Cooper Award 1988) and THE BLACKBURN FILES over several decades.