Eastern Angles tours play about lifeboat disaster in Suffolk coastal town
East Anglia is a seafaring region by culture and by history. Around our coastline, small communities lie huddled against the biting winds off the storm-tossed North Sea. These are communities that have always had a symbiotic relationship with the sea. A love-hate relationship, you might say.
They have relied on the sea for their livelihoods – nature providing just enough for a modest fishing industry and a lure for summer visitors. But, the sea is also a dangerous, mercurial business partner and is liable to rob a town of its young men as winter storms swamp the fragile fishing boats.
These towns are frequently close-knit communities, wary of outsiders and not easily parted from their secrets.
This scenario is the basis for the latest tour by Eastern Angles, the Suffolk-based theatre company that specialises in taking new plays, which reflect our history and contemporary life, to village halls and communities throughout Suffolk, Norfolk and Essex.
Their latest play Up Out O’ The Sea by Andrew Holland is about a community desperate to hang onto the real story of a lifeboat disaster when a young journalist comes calling armed with a laptop and a clutch of uncomfortable questions.
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For local audiences the town in question could easily be either Southwold or Aldeburgh. For those in Norfolk either Cromer or Wells. The beauty of Andrew Holland’s writing and Ivan Cutting’s direction is that it deals in universal truths.
The seaside town is everytown but it is also very definitely an East Anglian seaside town with very East Anglian characteristics.
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It is these traits which two young actors in the cast immediately recognised and allowed them easy access into their characters.
Francis Woolf, from Leiston, and Lisa-Marie Hoctor, brought up in Laxfield, both studied at Framlingham’s Thomas Mills High School before coincidentally being cast in this latest Eastern Angles tour.
Francis said: “It’s a very recognisable town. Growing up in Leiston, I see a lot of Aldeburgh in the way that Andrew has written it.” Lisa-Marie, having grown up further north sees echoes of Southwold in the writing.
“It’s what you know I suppose,” she says. “Whether it’s Aldeburgh or Southwold, Cromer or wherever, what’s important is that it’s a recognisable place, somewhere that people can identify with.”
Both actors are based in London now, because that is where the work is, but are relishing the opportunity to be back in Suffolk again revisiting old haunts and getting to rediscover the country lanes and network of small towns and villages.
Although both went to drama school, neither knew of each other while still at school. Lisa-Marie said: “We were two years apart. Francis had just left when I arrived but I knew of him from people who were still there.”
Francis looks worried. “Is that good or bad?” he half-jokes.
Lisa-Marie laughs: “I’m not saying,” but then she gives in. “It was in a good way.
“I only went to Thomas Mills for my A levels. Before then I lived in Barton Mills, near Bury St Edmunds, but then my Mum moved to Laxfield and I moved schools.”
Francis left Thomas Mills after his GCSEs and went to City College, Norwich, to study theatre and music technology.
Although Lisa-Marie had always had ambitions to be an actor, Francis his ambitions didn’t realise themselves until he started studying in Norwich.
“I had always enjoyed acting but I didn’t become serious about it until I started doing my A Levels. Then I did some work for Broadland Council running a dance and drama workshop for young people and I thought here I am, preparing people to go off and live the dream, why don’t I go off and do the same thing.”
In another near miss situation the pair were also members of the Mouth to Mouth Theatre Company based at the Cut in Halesworth but again Lisa joined just as Francis moved on.
Both described founders James Holloway and Caroline Mummery as inspirational figures in their development and giving them the confidence and the acting tools to turn their ambitions into a professional career.
Lisa said: “I think I have always wanted to be an actor since I was 11 or 12. I have always danced, been in school productions and at Thomas Mills they have a fabulous drama department. I just loved the course they did there. I can honestly say that they really did inspire me.”
She said that although Ivan did not stipulate that the cast had to come from Suffolk, it did help in the auditions if you knew something about the county, the sort characters that lived here and could capture the guarded friendliness that greeted strangers.
“He is really supportive of those actors who have a background here. All the work he does has an East Anglian flavour.”
Francis stressed that a local knowledge certainly helps with a genuine local accent. “My character has got a really strong Suffolk accent and there is nothing worse that getting it wrong. It certainly helped during auditions that I was familiar with the accent.”
Francis plays a young Aldeburgh fisherman called Tweedy who is smitten by Carrie the journalist that brings so much unrest and upset to the hitherto close-knot coastal community.
“Carrie is asking questions about a lifeboat disaster because she is trying to trace her roots and uncover a family mystery which is also a family tragedy. This lifeboat disaster happened in 1975 and my character’s mentor and father figure, Dolphie, he is the only survivor from this lifeboat disaster and he is very suspicious and hostile because he believes that Carrie is trying to dredge up the past.”
Lisa-Marie added that the play moves back and forth between the present and 1975. One of the characters she plays, Emily, died on the night of the lifeboat tragedy: “I can say that because that happens quite early on and doesn’t spoil anything. So whenever you see Emily you know it is a flashback. She’s a ghost, conjured up in the mind of Mrs Jope, the librarian. Emily had a baby and there is a lot of mystery surrounding the identity of the father. Also there is her story and what happened to her that night. It’s quite a journey.”
In the present Lisa-Marie also plays Milly who is involved in a relationship with the amorous Tweedy. “They are two young people who just gravitate towards each other in this enclosed world.”
Francis that the characteristic that defined these small, coastal fishing communities was the fact that they had a strong sense of their own identities and were wary of outsiders.
Francis said that he felt a strong affinity with the people and recognised the authenticity he found in the script. “Reading the script I got some very strong echoes from my own childhood in Leiston.
“And Ivan organised a day out in Aldeburgh. We spoke to fishermen, invested some in chips, went to the local pubs – just got a flavour of what the town was like.”
Lisa-Marie laughed: “It was all character research obviously”
“Particularly the trip to the pub,” Francis added.
But, on a serious note, he said it gave the rehearsals afterwards a real sense of place and the characters a more rounded identity.
For Lisa-Marie one of the most moving elements of the trip was coming across Maggi Hambling’s Scallop. “I love the way it catches the sun. We got it just right. It was shimmering. The sun was very low in the sky and it looked like gold and I loved the way that those lines from Peter Grimes were picked out by the light: ‘We Hear Those Voices That Will Not Be Drowned’ It captured the essence of what this play is about.”
Francis said that although people write about Aldeburgh in a very romantic way, he said that it still was very much a working coastal community. “It has boats, fishermen’s huts and all the various fishing paraphernalia still scattered across the beach. It looks great but it’s not pretty, pretty. It’s a real working beach. It’s somewhere where fishermen still land their catch.”
Both Francis and Lisa-Marie said that this three month tour was a fantastic opportunity to develop their skills over an extended period of time.
Lisa-Marie said that she graduated two years ago and most of her experience so far has been fringe theatre and short films and this gives her a valuable opportunity to build on her acting skills.
“Last year I did Be My Baby at The Lowry and an open-air Shakespeare tour (of The Tempest) and this will be allow me the develop my skills still further.
Francis agreed that although he has had wide experience – including being cast in a film, Welcome To The Majority, which is premiering at Cannes next year – many of the parts he has been offered were either short runs or in one-off fringe events. He agreed a three month tour really did stretch their acting muscles.
They said that they also admired the way that Ivan can transform what was a village hall or a community centre into the place where the play is set.
Lisa-Marie said that when they received the set designs for Up Out O’ The Sea she was blown away by the detail that designer Ian Teague was able to deliver. “It was like being back on Aldeburgh beach again. Working in a set which is that authentic make it very easy for us to do our job.
“It allows us to climb all over it and really use it in a creative way. There are loads of different levels which makes it interesting for us and for the audience. There’s plenty to look at. It’s really been thought through.”
Both young actors said that one of the joys of appearing in this play is the way that it conjures up an authentic portrait of a Suffolk community – a place with not only a sense of its own identity but a multitude of recognisable characters which then have ‘moments’ within the play when they get to communicate with the audience.
Up Out O’ The Sea is currently on tour throughout East Anglia, supported by the East Anglian Daily Times. Details of venues, bookings and ticket prices are available online at www.easternangles.co.uk or by ringing 01473 211498.