This intense, darkly humorous one-man play is focused on the titular Bud, a middle-aged farmer living in an isolated village in Cornwall. He’s waiting in his farmhouse kitchen as you file into the theatre, retro box of Cornflakes standing ready on the table, unshaven and dishevelled in paint-spattered clothes. You instantly know he doesn’t often talk about himself. But today, he has something he needs to share.
Bud’s wife Myrtle is missing from the scene. She’s represented only by a pile of knitting on the floor – and the unspoken question underpinning the plot is just where Myrtle might currently be. But the gist of the answer is a little too easy to predict; the tension’s primarily around not what happened, but why. And I left without feeling I’d really understood the answer to that riddle. There’s a sudden shift in a character’s behaviour which the script doesn’t fully explain.
Neil Sheffield puts in a commanding performance as Bud, easily drawing me into the relatively wordy monologue and carrying me successfully through the script’s many mood swings. When the tone turned humorous, I enjoyed his downbeat comic style, describing farcical situations with enough clarity that I could almost remember myself being there. He cleverly evokes a range of characters – including Myrtle – yet always retains enough of Bud to make clear it’s the farmer who’s telling the tale.
But it’s the darker scenes that I’ll remember more, where both playwright and actor display a sensitive understanding of the psychology of an introspective man. He loves his wife, but feels emasculated by her relative wealth; he knows the village gossips claim their marriage is a sham. There’s one particular moment of self-doubt and self-loathing which was almost unbearable, played with infinite depths of resignation and helpless despair.
Some neat themes do emerge from the play: the importance of the land we live on, the delicate balance of power between husband and wife, and the risks you take when you offer kindness to a stranger. Ultimately though, Bud doesn’t say quite as much as it seems to want to, and it doesn’t do enough to help metrosexual Brighton understand the pressures of life on an isolated farm on Cornwall. A five-star performance from Sheffield – but even he can’t entirely conquer an oddly unenlightening script.