Writer: Becky Prestwich
Director: Adam Quayle
Designer: Katie Scott
Reviewer: Ron Simpson
When Richard Wagner came up with the idea of the Gesamtkunstwerk, the total all-embracing work of art, he probably didn’t anticipate mixing in fish suppers, a trivia quiz and a silly-hat competition with a touching little comedy/drama of first love, lost love and the impermanence of youth.
Adam Quayle’s production of Becky Prestwich’s play for Box of Tricks first toured the North two years ago and has now embarked on a lengthy national tour with a partially changed cast. In its progress round pubs, clubs, libraries and arts centres it landed on the mezzanine floor of Scarborough’s splendidly refurbished Market Hall for two performances promoted by the Stephen Joseph Theatre.
The plot of the play is simple enough. Booth’s long-established Fish and Chip Restaurant is launching a grand reopening under the command of Eric Booth, the wandering son who has been more inclined to tend a Thai beach bar than fulfil the needs of Northern souls for fish suppers. His assistant Lee is devoted, dedicated, socially gauche and almightily relieved to have a real job, a chance to escape his deprived background. Despite all the tables being full, Eric insists on finding room for widowed Christine and her grand-daughter Jasmine: Christine, it seems, is an old flame from 40-odd years ago and – what do you know? – Lee and Jasmine have a history (of a sort) from their schooldays.
The relationships work out (or not) – past, present and future take their turns in the narration – and, if the tone is relatively soft-centred, there is enough sense of reality to convince and the ending is sweetly downbeat.
What makes Chip Shop Chips work so well is the fusion between all the different strands, between performers and audience, between the hard fact of the citizens of Scarborough eating their haddock and filling in their quiz sheets and the fiction of Christine reminiscing about a romantic time in Morecambe. Late-comers’ meals are still being delivered to tables as Eric goes into his opening spiel; Christine takes part in the same quiz as the rest of us; Jasmine refuses to enter the hat competition and hands her materials to the next table; Eric incorporates audience memories (not particularly exciting, to be honest) in his presentation; on occasion Christine even has to pitch an emotional monologue above the mutter of punters arguing about the quiz until the penny drops and they fall silent.
Josh Moran (Eric) and Julie Edwards (Christine) both succeed in putting over the losses of advancing years beneath a spry exterior. He bounces and dances and patters away into his mike, but disasters in the kitchen only add to the strain of his medical problems. She fits perfectly into the role of the stylish grandmother who expects to be taken for Jasmine’s mother (or sister?), but has a series of poignant monologues on pain and loss. Mark Newsome’s Lee grows and develops through the evening, from a compound of shyness and clumsiness into a person of genuine goodness and even a touch of the initiative. Best of all is Jessica Forrest’s Jasmine, totally convincing and natural, attractive, self-obsessed and cynical, determined to keep up appearances, but revealing hidden depths (and shallows) as the meal progresses.
Touring nationwide | Image: Decoy Media