There is much to be gleaned from the subtlety of the play but it requires work and attention to seek it out.
Country Music opens with two teenagers 18-year-old Jamie (Cary Crankson) and 15-year-old Lynsey (Rebecca Stone) sitting in a car talking about a trip to Southend.
It appears relatively innocent, a boy trying to impress a girl until we discover that Jamie has stolen the car and is putting distance between himself and a violent crime he has committed which we later find out resulted in a death.
Lynsey, who lives in a care home, may enjoy the attention and this moment of fun and promise but is savvy and when Jamie reveals exactly what he has done she gets cold feet.
The play goes on to visit Jamie at three further pivotal moments in his life in a series of two-handers.
He is visited in prison several years later by his step-brother Matty (Dario Coates) where he learns that Lynsey has moved on taking their young daughter Emma to live with a new boyfriend in the north.
Then we see him, out of prison and having an awkward meeting with the now 17-year-old Emma (Frances Knight).
The final scene takes us back to just before that fateful day when Lynsey and Jamie are hanging out together and we learn more of his motivation for committing the crime.
Simon Stephens has worked in prisons and Country Music demonstrates a deeper understanding of the person behind the crime, that it is never just black and white.
While Jamie's anger can tip over into violence and he is justly punished for murder, he isn't wholly bad and is a person of good intention and feelings.
The broader reach of his punishment is most vividly seen through his relationship with his daughter.
When the two meet, he is proud that she has a stable job with some prospects but to her, he is a stranger. She tells him she doesn't hate him but is the absence of hate actually worse in what it implies?
Country Music is an intricate play, quietly revealing snippets from Jamie's past including a desperate moment from which he was saved by Lynsey and raising questions about whether Jamie can have redemption and forgiveness.
Director Scott Le Crass has the cast play with the beats between the dialogue with Crankson and Stone particularly good at injecting significance into the silence.
There is much to be gleaned from the subtlety of the play but it requires work and attention to seek it out and there are some details which, frustratingly, left hanging.
Jury still out
Crankson carries the play switching from twitchy teen to adult weighted with experience but is there redemption for Jamie? The jury is still out.
Country Music is one hour and 20 minutes without an interval and I'm giving it ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️.
See it at the Omnibus Theatre until June 23.
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