Those who have had the pleasure of seeing either of Matt Fuller’s previous plays will not be disappointed by his latest work, Peterson. This new tale of innocence and complicity charts the relationship between the elderly Abel Peterson and the villagers who live in the shadow of the hill on which his house ominously perches. Isolated by more than just location, the distance between the characters grows even as a young girl, Wendy, tries to breach it. Meanwhile, down in the village the rumour mill grows ever louder and old suspicions reawaken.
Fuller says that Peterson represents his desire to return to character-based drama, and indeed all four of the characters are convincingly developed whilst retaining enough stock characteristics to justify the phrase ‘modern fairytale’. Thomas Olver manages to elicit sympathy as Peterson without ever quite gaining the audience’s trust and the sweetness of his scenes with Wendy (Caitlin McMillan) establishes an uneasy equilibrium. His obsession with a certain female news presenter causes him to gaze compulsively and eerily at the television screen whenever she appears, and the script combines with Olver’s expressions to emphasise the unsettling naivety of his behaviour and his past. Tension is heightened further by the conversational monologues of the villagers (Fen Greatley and Lizhi Howard), which intrude upon the scenes with Abel and Wendy and gradually reveal the dark secrets of Abel’s past.
This conversational style that Fuller has developed gently insinuates and the audience are allowed to form their own opinions of Abel based on his own words and the words of others. The viewer watches and judges the old man alongside the villagers and – despite the description of the play as a ‘fable’ – no character is immediately and simply set apart as the piece’s villain. This compromise between the morally grey in human nature and the stark presentation of oral literature allows for not only flexibility but the promise of suspense as each scene reveals more of each characters’ attitudes and actions.
Amusing and heartfelt, this play explores community from the inside and exposes the baser parts of human nature which judge on appearance and without mercy. The cast unite to examine the way gossip spreads and the effects of mistrust which has turned the perfectly ordinary villagers against their one time friend. Despite the strong focus on character, Fuller says there are also some surprises in store. Although it does not set out to shock, Peterson will certainly have tongues wagging.