Writer: Joe Bennett
Directors: Adrian Rawlins/Mike Friend
Lighting: Mike Friend
Set Design: Ed Ullyart
Reviewer: Ron Simpson
East Riding Theatre at Beverley gets far less attention than it deserves. Maybe the comfortable, welcoming, but rough-hewn, adaptation of a church as a theatre and the largely volunteer staff disguise what a professionally capable organization it is. Maybe there is an assumption that ERT stages safe productions: true, there are Godber tours and warm-hearted Christmas shows, but these are popular for a reason and there is plenty more adventurous fare put before the theatregoers of Beverley.
Chippy, the latest in-house production at ERT, derives from a remarkable professional relationship between East Riding Theatre and Lyttelton Arts Factory in New Zealand. Writer Joe Bennett, English-born, is a long-time resident of Lyttelton and the commission, the latest collaboration between ERT and LAF, was for a play that could transfer its setting from Beverley to Lyttelton. The production has been co-directed by ERT’s Artistic Director and LAF’s Creative Director; the cast consists of a regular with each company, playing a New Zealander and a Yorkshire woman respectively, and the whole thing will be remounted at Lyttelton Arts Factory.
What a superb idea – and how impressive that a theatre less than five years old has forged such international links! Sadly, this time, the play doesn’t live up to the initiative.
Chippy emerges from the challenge of writing a play based on Macbeth set in an East Riding (or New Zealand) chip shop. The chippy is run by Mack and Beth (Bennett never seems sure how seriously to take his subject or its relationship with the Scottish play), but owned by the Captain, slowly dying upstairs, his presence signified by imperious knocks (hint of Macbeth Act 2?) and uneaten food. Mack owes much to the Captain and follows his every wish; Beth accuses Mack at length of an excess of kindness, one of the occasions when the relationship between the two neatly parallels the original. When Mack and Beth engage on a criminal course, the narrative often lacks impact, apart from one Orton-esque episode with a freezer: the fact that they find out that the Captain’s name was Duncan fails to chill the blood.
Adrian Rawlins and Mike Friend’s production works very hard to establish a unique performance style, with Mack and Beth’s little dances and choreographed moves. Ed Ullyart’s set – the living room behind the chippy – is impressively detailed and convincing, and lighting and sound intensify the atmosphere.
As Mack and Beth Tom Trevella and Hester Ullyart skilfully create the right relationship for the couple: they are clearly together, a unit, while hardly sharing a point of agreement. Trevella’s rumpled, easy-going persona convinces more than his struggles with conscience (though he has one chillingly effective moment) and Ullyart’s attempts to present all Beth’s complexity end up rather mannered in a play that seeks a consistent tone and also places too much reliance on playing the silences.
Chippy transfers to Lyttelton Arts Factory, New Zealand | Image: Contributed