Writer: Henry Darke
Director: Chris White
Reviewer: Richard Maguire
There are no waves in this play about surfing, but there is a shark. The Great White isn’t the only imposter on the Cornish beach, as Booby’s Bay, a new play at the tiny Finborough Theatre, is also concerned with those city slickers who buy up property in the county to have as their second homes.
The play begins with thirty-something Huck meditating, but he’s a highly-strung, recovering alcoholic. He’s angry at a lot of things, especially the way in which the second home industry turns Booby’s Bay into a ghost town in the winter: ‘a soulless, empty, wasteland’. Huck decides to make a stand; he will squat in one of the apartments in Dolphin Mews. The driftwood he’s collected from the beach will be his barricade.
This seems like a solid enough plot for a 90-minute play, but Henry Darke throws in other competing stories. What happened to Huck’s brother, Jago, when he disappeared seven years ago? Who is the father of Jeanie’s baby? Who will win the surfing competition and be able to take part in the World Championships in Sydney? Each story seems equally important, but the result is often chaotic.
The start of the play is also difficult to follow because of its Cornishness. The actors speak in thick Cornish accents, and some of the Cornish dialect is incomprehensible to non-natives. Darke has also attempted to give his dialogue a Cornish rhythm, and while it takes some time to ride the vernacular wave, it is refreshingly authentic, and all the actors, none of them Cornish, excel with the accent.
The play is in three acts, but much of the last act is a little redundant and it seems very late in the day to introduce two new characters. The narrative would be smoother if some of the action from the final act could be incorporated in the second one, which is set at the surfing competition. It would also allow for a greater examination of the way that second home ownership affects the indigenous populations on the Cornish coastline.
The acting is all top-notch especially Bradley Taylor, who plays surfer Daz with an effective physicality. Oliver Bennett gives Huck a deep-eyed intensity, a man about to snap at any time. It’s a shame that the two female characters – Huck’s mother, and Daz’s girlfriend who sells sea-snakes on the sea shore – aren’t drawn with the same detail as the male characters. When Esther Cole and Florence Roberts are on stage, they are often given nothing to do, but to stand or dance in the background.
But as an ensemble, the five actors fill the stage with life, often at breakneck speed. The musical interludes composed by Michael Henry and sung well by the cast, add a subtle melancholy to the play, a useful balance against the shouting and the comedy. The set designed by Paul Burgess is functional but does little to evoke the sandy beaches of the bay near Padstow.
This is Henry Darke’s first full-length play and on the basis of Booby’s Bay, his is a name to look out for in the future. But there are too many narrative strands in this first attempt, one veering too close to soap opera. Huck’s journey from zero to hero needs a more focussed hand.
Runs until 24 February 2018 | Image: Blerim Racaj