Writer: Harry Long
Director: Tim Bell
Reviewer: Paul Couch
Suffolk’s leading touring company, Eastern Angles, has a rich history of providing an alternative festive fare to the plethora of pantos whose runs seem to be getting longer and not particularly affiliated to Christmas. Mansfield Park &Ride was riotous, The Mystery of St Finnigan’s Elbowhit many a funny bone, The Brontes of Dunwich Heath(&Cliff) was as large in laughs as it was in hats.
For 2015/16, however, Eastern Angles is collaborating with another troupe, Shanty Theatre Company, on Holy Mackerel! and, to be honest, it’s not exactly the catch of the century.
Harry Long’s script (Long appears as one of the five cast and clearly relishes the spotlight as the hapless protagonist, Norman) is based very loosely on the historical riots that broke out between the fishermen of Newlyn, Cornwall and – in this version – interlopers from Lowestoft who found rich pickings by fishing on Sunday, a practice banned by the strictly religious Cornishmen. Why this appeared to be a viable premise for a Christmas offering, though, is anyone’s guess.
The performances are perfectly adept, with multiple rôles being picked up by the cast, and Tim Bell directs them well. However, that being said, this seems to be very much a work in progress as far as the writing’s concerned.
The usual array of fun stock caricatures are there but they just seem more laboured with a turgid script that casually delves into the topics of ejaculate and gay sex, while poking fun at people’s religious convictions. It’s not cleverly subversive, just brash and in-yer-face Viz-smutty.
Holy Mackerel! is woefully mispositioned considering its mainly older audience; indeed, the quite explicit innuendos seemed designed to shock rather than elicit giggles and sabotage the good-natured fun. At one point, “the C-bomb” is almost dropped causing several members of the audience to stare at each other open-mouthed. Fortunately, on the night in question, the number of children present could be counted on one hand.
Shanty Theatre Company is clearly a skilled bunch and brava! to Eastern Angles for continuing to provide something other than the seven usual panto suspects but Holy Mackerel! lacks the tongue-in-cheek charm and subtle, multi-level naughtiness of previous Christmas productions at the Sir John Mills Theatre.
When one is asked (unwittingly) by the writer after the interval: “Why did you come back?” and one can’t actually think of a polite answer, there’s something amiss.
As comedic value goes, more of a sprat than a mackerel.
Runs until 6 January 2016 then touring | Image: Mike Kwasniak