BOTH intimate and thought provoking, while also suffused with plenty of warm humour, Forest Forge Theatre Company's latest touring production, The Gamekeeper is set firmly in the heart of the New Forest. It also touches on many pertinent, contemporary social issues.

Retired gamekeeper Frank is more than a little surprised to find a teenage runaway in his old tin bath. Not quite knowing what to do, he is forced to let Jenni stay overnight due to worsening weather and the remoteness of the cottage. Ebony Feare, as the tough but vulnerable Jenni, is believable as the young girl and Roger Butcher is perfect as gruff but kind Frank, with problems of his own, facing some tough decisions as to his future. At first the pair are rightly suspicious of each other, but slowly trust is gained, backgrounds are shared, and dreams relayed.

Ruth Dawes is excellent as kind, affectionate postwoman Sally and it is her part that provides the catalyst for Frank and Jenni to be brought back to reality with a thud.

Josephine Carter's play is a brilliant observation of social dynamics and designer Helen Goddard has given the cosy interior of Frank's home an authentic touch with plenty of faded charm.

David Haworth's sensitive direction enables each characters' personality to slowly develop before our eyes. Yes, there are silences, inevitably, for Frank is such a private man, but the play never once feels protracted. This is due in part to the musical expertise of actor/musician Ruth Dawes and Dominic Phillips, company stage manager, under the musical direction of Richard Emerson. Never intrusive, the duo of harmonium and guitar blends perfectly, creating an earthy, folky feel and having the effect of melding the scenes seamlessly.

I defy anyone not to have a lump in their throat by the end.

- Anne Morris

  • A full list of tour dates and venues is available from the theatre company or via its website. The Gamekeeper tours until April 14 and is suitable for 14 years up.