Eastern Angles theatre review

Peapickers by Nicola Werenowska , Eastern Angles, at Sir John Mills Theatre Ipswich and touring until Saturday 26 May

Theatre review

Peapickers by Nicola Werenowska , Eastern Angles, at Sir John Mills Theatre Ipswich and touring until Saturday 26 May

A tangle of mistaken childhood memories, long hidden secrets and a search for identity lie at the heart of Nicola Werenowska's engaging play. When we come to examine who we are, whether the responsibility is with our genes or our environment, the play's main character concludes that it's the 'environment that pulls the trigger but our genes that load the gun'.

A top black American geneticist (Daryl, thoughtfully played by Anthony Taylor) is over here to host a prestigious Cambridge conference. Driven by an urge he doesn't fully understand, he takes time off to investigate his East Anglian roots.

He's the son of an American airman who'd been based in North Essex in the sixties. His mother, Susan (Rosalind Porter) is one of a trio of women (the others played by Carmen Rodriguez and Anne Cavanagh) who spent the summer pea-picking and, seemingly, making merry.

As an unmarried mother of nearly four decades ago, Susan had had to enlist the help of her two friends, amid their fun and squabbling, to help mind Daryl. Then, while still little more than toddler, the boy was sent over to America to be brought up by his father. Both parents are now dead but Daryl never forgave his dad for apparently abandoning his mother. Searching out the two remaining friends, he discovers it wasn't like that at all. His father had loved Susan. She, however, as a manic depressive, simply couldn't cope.

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It's a pretty involved story taking in female love, a battle between two women, long harboured hatreds and resentments, and a flawed decision to keep the truth from Daryl, who can only piece together fragments from his childhood memory. The effect is that, particularly as a leading bio-geneticist, he is thrown into total confusion about his own identity and how he must interpret his own increasing mood swings.

It's a journey of discovery, played out in the two distant decades. Daryl watches the sixties pea field scenes, desperately trying to fit things together. In the present scenes he has to deal with his past, with the two now middle-aged women and reassess his way forward. It's a well-argued play raising the issues of what it is that makes us what we are and how we deal with it all.

Director Samantha Potter gets strong performances from her cast, which keeps the series of short scenes on track.

Ivan Howlett