Those living along the east coast often have a love/hate relationship with the North Sea.
On one hand it provides a vital source of income, traditionally through fishing but, nowadays, increasingly through tourism. On the other, for every calm there is a storm just around the corner that can easily claim lives.
This complex relationship between costal communities and the sea forms the backdrop for Andrew Holland’s Up Out O’ The Sea, Eastern Angles’ latest touring production.
Thirty years ago the coastal community was rocked by the loss of several local volunteer lifeboat crew memeber when their attempt to rescue a stricken Danish freighter ended in tragedy. Over the years the coastline may have eroded but the ghosts of that tragedy still haunt the surviors. Secrets of what actually happened that stormy night still lay buried deep and the locals are reluctant to discuss the subject, a hindrance to journalist Carrie who has been drawn to the town to research the tragedy for a book. There is more than first meets the eye here and more than one secret lies buried and not all out at sea. As a salvage team attempt to raise the wreck, more than rusting iron is exposed.
Local fishermen Dolphie won’t talk about events that happened, despite the pressure from his young assistant, Tweedy. Tweedy himself is battling conflicting thoughts of trying to come to terms with his past while wishing he could follow his dreams as an artist instead of a struggling fisherman. There’s also a conflict with local librarian Mrs Jope who perhaps knows more than she is letting on.
Eastern Angles works best when it tackles local subjects and here there is a strong sense of local community. Holland’s script picks up the natural rhythm of the Suffolk coastal dialect and the dry, often dark humour that prevails.
The piece is wonderfully detailed and builds the tension and atmosphere slowly. A series of flashback scenes help us slowly unravel many of the unexplained mysteries that shaped the tragedy 30 years ago. As the locals learn to exorcise some of the ghosts of the past they begin to realise that there is more than just the locality that binds them together.
This sense of community is well portrayed by the company, initial wary of the outsider among them but also wary of each others involvement in the events of the past.
There are strong performances from the whole company. Mike Aherne’s salt in the blood fisherman balances well with Francis Woolf’s green round the gills Tweedy. Also working well is the relationship between newcomer Carrie (an emotionally powerful performance from Laura Harding) and librarian Mrs Jope (a detailed and complex rendition from Lisa Tramontin). Completing the company, Lisa-Marie Hoctor’s duel roles as Milly and Emily provide catalyst for change in the two differing eras.
There are some sections of the piece that perhaps need more exploration. For example we never fully understand why young Tweedy has turned to alcohol or the reason why Emily leaves for Skegness for several months. Overall, though, Up Out O’ The Sea is a strong outing by Eastern Angles, full of comedy but also with a surprisingly moving climax. Those who live or work beside the power of the sea will find much to resonate in this finely observed play.