Review: Oysters, by Ivan Cutting, Eastern Angles, on tour until June 6
- Credit: Archant
Oysters come with a reputation and so does touring theatre company Eastern Angles.
Under the guiding hand of founder, director and occasional writer Ivan Cutting this innovative company have developed a well-deserved reputation for bringing drama with a local flavour to village halls and community centres across Suffolk and the region.
Oysters is Eastern Angles going back to basics. Ivan has come up a new show which is crammed full of local history, mythology, drama, humour and nautical information. If that wasn’t enough the action takes place across two time zones and part of it only exists in the head of the play’s lead character Mo.
There is a huge amount to enjoy in Oysters and the performances are terrific, particularly when you consider that the four actors have to play multiple roles, but sadly the whole is less than the sum of its parts.
Ivan is a great historian. He loves research. He loves first person testimony but on this occasion he has got carried away with the sheer volume of information he has acquired and has tried to shoe-horn it all into what was all ready a tightly-packed and very colourful storyline.
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To put it quite simply. There is just too much going on and it is hard for an audience to keep tabs on who everyone is and when things are happening.
You could lose a couple of characters and streamline the story without the show losing any power at all.
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The play was inspired by the work of the Pioneer Sailing Trust and follows the restoration of a 19th century Oyster Smack. The play also provides a glimpse into the lives of the Essex oyster fishermen and the effects of the closure of the last boatyard in 1988.
The story is told through the eyes of Mo, engagingly brought to life by Terence Frisch, one of the old hands who made and sailed the boats. He is now employed by the sailing trust to restore a vintage vessel and pass on his skills to apprentices like Angie (Jeannie Dickinson).
However, student Kaisey (Hephzibah Roe) arrives, asks too many questions and in the process opens old wounds while sailing trust administrator Pamela (Kiki Kendrick) worries about their future once the restoration work is complete and the funding runs out.
The relationship between all the characters is well realised. Mo works well with Jeannie Dickinson’s petulant apprentice Angie and her philosophical police officer PC Adair while Kiki Kendrick personifies the sexual allure of the Oyster by creating Pearl, a mystical sea goddess who may or may not also be Mo’s mother-in-law.
Special mention must be made for artist James Dodds fantastic wood-cut animations which are projected throughout the play onto the workshop whiteboard along with text messages and film from the heyday of Essex oyster-trawling.
There’s much to enjoy in this play and a lot of wonderful information to absorb – who knew the difference between restoration, reconstruction and conservation or how important a piece of deadwood was? But, a more focussed approach to the script would have produced a tighter, sharper piece of drama.