DramaNorth East & YorkshireReview

The Catch – East Riding Theatre, Beverley

Reviewer: Ron Simpson

Writer: Nick Darke

Director: Richard Avery

Other Lives Productions, based in Beverley, was founded and is run by Richard Avery and Neil King. For such a small company, touring mostly to village halls, the choice of play is often ambitious, even quirky. Currently Other Lives are reviving the work of Nick Darke whom Avery worked with in the theatre and whose work has fallen into some neglect since his death in 2005. In 2019 the company produced Landmarks to great success; now it’s the turn of The Catch, originally staged at The Royal Court Upstairs in 1981.

Two weeks into a four weeks-plus tour, mostly of East and North Yorkshire, the production settles for a week at Beverley’s East Riding Theatre. The play, teasingly poised between sit-com and serious social issues, is typical of Darke’s combination of practical man of the theatre, here working with small cast and small space, and environmental campaigner.

The play, set in Cornwall at the time of its writing, deals with the decline of the fishing industry, in part because of the imposition of Common Market fishing quotas. Then, as now, membership of the European community was a thorny issue with fishermen who lost out both coming and going.

That social issue underlies the whole play, but cloaked in a comic, sometimes farcical story-line. At the opening of the play Swiddles and his crewman, Leadwell, argue over the current situation, Swiddles angrily uncomprehending, Leadwell suggesting they should move with the times. Thelma, Swiddles’ daughter, pregnant and refusing to name the father, complicates the issue, as does the unseen fourth character in the play, the local wide-boy, the object of Swiddles’ detestation, but rather more complex emotions from the other two. As the first act ends, Leadwell has just persuaded Swiddles of the desirability of using their lobster-pots as the final link in a consignment of cocaine’s journey from South America. Of course there is – what else? – a catch in his scheme.

The tone of The Catch is difficult to define. The world of the sit-com is there in father and daughter, both with guilty secrets and expecting calls, rushing to get to the phone first, and in some smart gags: “Go with him to Wiltshire and he’ll desert you. Then where will you be?” “Wiltshire.” On the other hand the dialogue has an earthiness suggestive of more realistic drama and Swiddles’ long speech despairing at the loss of the old life to fishing quotas and tourist attractions expresses real social concerns.

Richard Avery’s economical production captures this tone, with Neil King (Swiddles) and Gordon Meredith (Leadwell), as the embattled fishermen, developing a neat double act, then fragmenting to the brink of violence as deception takes hold. Evie Guttridge’s forthright Thelma completes a thoroughly convincing ensemble.

Ed Ullyart’s cottage interior set looks the part, draped with fishing nets and suchlike, and the music is wittily chosen: for instance, the play is introduced by Bobby Darin’s Beyond the Sea, then, as the fishermen come to an accommodation with the world outside, Charles Trenet’s original La Mer greets the interval triumphantly.

Runs until October 30th 2021, then touring

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