Review: Pearls From The Grit, produced by Poetry People, Bethel Theatre, Lowestoft, October 4-5; Christ Church Halls, Lowestoft, October 6
- Credit: Photograph Peter Everard Smith
Sat at The Avenue Theatre, Ipswich, the last thing I expected to hear as this poignant play ended was my 102-year-old great aunt singing the traditional Lowestoft May Day song Climbing Up the Walls.
Thinking back over the last hour, I recognised so much of her in the character of Ruby, played by Sally-Ann Burnett. Turns out the writer Dean Parkin had spoken to my great aunt at length about our hometown’s almost forgotten fishing village known as The Grit a few years ago.
Not that I needed such a special connection to appreciate such a thoughtful production; part of a year-long Heritage Lottery funded project.
In the early 1900s Lowestoft was one of the country’s leading tourist resorts and a top fishing port with a population of 23,000. The Grit - home to 2,300 people, three schools, churches, shops and 13 pubs, as highlighted brilliantly in one of the musical interludes - was the most easterly point in the country, right next to the North Sea. Using the words of his great friend - and another old acquaintance of mine - Jack Rose as a guide, Dean took us back in time to ask what made it such a special place to live, the ups, the downs and why it disappeared in the 1960s.
Directed by Wonderful Beast’s Alys Kihl and narrated by Dean, we were introduced to no-nonsense fisherman old Ned (David Redgrave); Billy (Tim FitzHigham), a larger-than-life skipper during Lowestoft’s fishing boom, and his daughter Ruby, one of the tireless taskforce of women helping keeping the fishing industry afloat. At The Grit pub piano was Tickler Sam (Maurice Horhut) who provided wonderful original songs and live music.
Mixing poems, stories, songs and film it brought The Grits’ many remarkable characters - such as Arthur “Happy” Welham - vividly to life. Coming from a fishing family stretching back generations, these were people I knew from stories told me by my grandfather and an emotional trip down memory lane.
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Funny, sad and thought-provoking in equal measure, it was a poignant picture of a lost Lowestoft. While wonderful to see it revived, celebrated and kept alive in memory at least, it made me mourn the town of my youth.
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