IVY TILLER: VICAR’S DAUGHTER, SQUIRREL KILLER
The Other Place, Stratford upon Avon, Thursday 27th October, 2022
Long ago, white Europeans went to the Americas and wiped out the natives with diseases. Centuries later, the grey squirrels returned the favour by coming to the UK and doing the same to our native reds. There is a movement now to ‘control’ the grey population, a kind of ethnic cleansing for squirrels.
This new comedy by Bea Roberts, currently playing in the RSC’s underused Other Place studio theatre, seems as though it was tailor-made for comedian Daisy May Cooper, with a very strong feel of the BBC sitcom This Country about it. Cooper does not appear, but her spirit is evoked by the superb Jenny Rainsford in the title role.
Ivy is something of an eco-warrior, hunting and killing the invasive grey squirrels in order that the native reds may flourish. This activity gives Ivy a sense of purpose and self-importance, because in no other arena is she afforded these feelings: her teacher training is down the drain, her father is cold and distant, treating her like a skivvy… And so squirrel-hunting has replaced caring for her late mother, and here is something she can control, a ‘disease’ she can eradicate. Fresh out of jail, cousin Gary (Nathan McMullan) comes to visit. Ivy picks up where they left off, wallowing in childhood nostalgia.
This is not really a play about conservation. It’s more to do with grief – or to be precise, not grieving. Ivy is unable to move on from the loss of her mother, so when even the squirrel-killing dries up and her team is disbanded, she has nowhere to turn. She tries to cling to her eco-warrior role and keep it going, but it is slipping from her grasp.
This very funny piece turns out to have been a tragedy, after all.
Rainsford and McMullan make a fine double act, and they are supported by a fine quartet. I really enjoy Alex Bhat as Reece, Ivy’s comrade-in-arms who is in love with her; Tim Treloar as local landowner Tig and other roles; Anna Andresen as a beleaguered headteacher; and Jade Ogugua as a primary school teacher – her clashes with Rainsford are excellently played.
Caitlin McLeod’s direction hones the comedic playing to the hilt, wisely allowing dumbshow sequences to cover transitions, to give us physical comedy to complement Roberts’s dazzling script.
One of the aspects I most admire about this production is it credits the audience with the intelligence to piece together characters’ histories, to divine why they are the way they are. We meet Ivy and her milieu as observers – the distance helps us to laugh – but it is our recognition of the characters’ humanity that fills in the blanks.
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆