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Neil Sheffield stars and takes all the roles in the black comedy Bud. He talks to Rosy Moorhead
'She own this farm see? She own it. ‘Ole farm belong to her [...] But I never demanded on condition a marriage that she relinquish ownership to me an she respect that.’
This opening dialogue sets the tone of the fiercely atmospheric one-man play Bud, starring Muswell Hill actor Neil Sheffield, in which farmer Bud recounts the story of his marriage to an older woman, Myrna, who owns her own farm. Told in a torrent of surreal anecdotes, touching memories and ever-increasing anxiety, Bud builds to a shocking climax.
“I can’t tell you the ending but it’s a huge twist,” says Neil, 43, who is the principal of the Academy of the Science of Acting and Directing by day. “It’s a love story about a man and a wife who are both farmers but really it’s the study of the breakdown of the marriage, set in the 1980s. Myrna owns the farm they live on and the issue of ownership was never sorted out when they married. Bud thinks everyone in the parish thinks he’s after her farm and money – this grows in his head into anger and paranoia.
“Although it’s very dark it’s also very funny – there’s black humour running all the way through it. It’s uncomfortable to watch but so witty.”
The play, by the late Cornish playwright Nick Darke, was originally written as a monologue but the Tell Theatre Company have decided to bring the story’s other characters to life by having Neil act them out. “It’s much more enjoyable for both me and the audience,” Neil explains. “Nick Darke lived on a farm in Cornwall and knew these people, so they’re so real and accurately written. It’s a joy to act.”
Bud has only been performed once before – it was originally commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company at the Almeida Theatre in Islington in 1985. “Nick Darke was quite big in the 1980s, quite prolific,” says Neil, “but he died of cancer in 2005 and now people are getting interested in him again. His work is so strong and funny, I love it.”
Bud is at the King’s Head Theatre, Upper Street, Islington on Sundays and Mondays until July 8 at 7.15pm, with a 3pm matinee on Sunday, July 8. Details: 020 7478 0160, www.kingsheadtheatre.com