Review: Forgotten, by Ray Rumsby, Stuff of Dreams Theatre Company, Aldeburgh and on tour

Forgotten is a new play focussing on the life of Aldeburgh poet George Crabbe and is touring across

Forgotten is a new play focussing on the life of Aldeburgh poet George Crabbe and is touring across north Suffolk - Credit: Archant

Committed to bringing East Anglian stories to life, Stuff Of Dreams Theatre Company presents Forgotten, a new play by Ray Rumsby that explores the the life and work of Peter Grimes’ creator George Crabbe.

George Crabbe, an 18th Century Aldeburgh boy, was a writer before his time in many ways. Peter Grimes, his most well known piece was taken by Benjamin Britten and transformed into one of his most famous operas. Issues around poverty, workhouses and social injustice drove much of his writing and, one would presume, the man himself.

The play adopts a straightforward linear biography where Crabbe is concerned. The writing holds back from making any bold statements about Crabbe. The creative process is a mysterious and fascinating one, yet too many dots are left to the audience to join up to understand the man through his work. I was genuinely left feeling utterly bewildered during the first half, also in part due to not being able to understand or hear the actors. I’m not sure what this was due to, but it seriously hindered engagement at key moments.

This production is full of exciting and talented performers who multi role with ease, but the writing does not allow them to get to grips with the subject. Why do we wait until the second half before we get any depth in the character of Sarah Elmy, George’s wife? According to the programme both she and George took opium regularly- this strikes me as infinitely more interesting than the endless superficial conversation about marrying George that seemed to dominate the early part of the production.

The second half feels a lot more urgent and powerful. The Peter Grimes story is compelling and Nick Murray Brown inhabits the brutish character with real belief. There are definite links being made here to Crabbe’s own life and his art which absolutely resonate.

Great art, like that of Crabbe’s survives because its universal ideas speak through the years to us and connects our humanity. It is therefore unbelievably ironic that at the end it is left to a modern ‘academic’ character to ‘explain’ the ideas, rather than give Crabbe himself the words to hold up a critical mirror to today’s attitudes to poverty and social injustice.


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Jackie Montague