RED Skies over the Severn is a superbly written contemporary play vividly illustrating the lives of the Shepards, a Worcestershire farming family.

With foot and mouth as a backdrop, the crisis adds to a long list of troubles to have hit farmers from as far back as 1066, when the Normans set about writing their Doomsday Book. It is a sombre topic given a mercifully light twist by Worcester playwright Lance Woodman, whose real genius is in tackling the subject through colourful relationships between family members.

Threats with a shotgun, snogs, torture and manipulative affection are just some of the tools used by husband and wife, daughter and grandfather in having their views about the future of farming heard above the daily slog. Acting as a catharsis between them are the ghost of a young boy and a Sheffield lad on placement, whose own father's experiences in the failing steel industry act as an informative comparison.

Each of the five main cast members turn in such lively, realistic performances that their character's issues reflect and bounce back with a sense of genuine discourse.

The play is showing in Worcester's Swan Theatre until Saturday, November 10.

Ally Hardy