by Ivan Cutting.
Tour to 6 June 2015.
Runs 2hr 25min One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 27 May at Blackthorpe Barn Rougham.
Fascinating scenes don’t cohere all together.
Whitstable, Kent, is probably the place most people associate with oysters. Yet Eastern Angles, touring Ivan Cutting’s new play, point-out East Anglia has a prior claim. Colchester and Brightlingsea were traditional oyster farms, peaking in the late 19th-century, before declining amid pollution and disease a century later.
Sewage works on the River Colne were blamed, while Cutting shows the declining trade also hit boat-building in the area. There’s a lot of information about this, in the programme and in his script – which also develops a story full of tensions about the attempt to restore a sample boat.
This is wreathed in character clashes, different agendas and linguistic niceties relating to work on ancient objects: preservation, reconstruction, replication, restoration. All have implications when it comes to finding funding.
Along with this there’s the mystery of an attack on the boat undergoing what I’ll call renovation. Enter the police. While the responsible person is identified, the motive is only hazily identified. It’s a hit-and-miss mix typical of a play where each scene has interest, without forming a coherent action overall.
There are arbitrary-seeming mood swings too. These undermine Terence Frisch’s secretive boat-builder Mo. Splendid in the opening scenes’ throwaway realism and humour, the character’s left adrift in the unlikely intrigue, exacerbated by concussion, which comes along in the murkily-defined plot.
There’s a frame in Kiki Kendrick’s Pearl, spirit of oyster-history, yet also a Merseyside Theatre-in-Education performer, for no particular reason. It’s nicely performed in flowing robes, contrasting Kendrick’s severely-suited businesswoman Pamela, but has little point; rather like the video graphics which keep emerging as if to deepen a plain tale.
Two strong young performers show opposite skills; Hephzibah Roe as the student trying to work her way through the labyrinth of motives she finds around the renovation of the ‘Pandora’, and Jeannie Dickinson in creating an array of characters.
Dickinson’s Caledonian constable, who refers everything back to the Scottish Enlightenment, makes the most of some sound comic writing, but seems an intrusion in an ambitious play that sometimes forgets to look over its shoulder to ensure the plot hasn’t lost the audience.
Mo: Terence Frisch.
Pamela/Pearl: Kiki Kendrick.
Angie/Andrea/Nurse/PC Adair: Jeannie Dickinson.
Kasey: Hephzibah Roe.
Director: Ivan Cutting.
Designer: Rosie Alabaster.
Lighting: Steve Cooney.
Composer: Jon Goddard.