Writer: Benjamin Myers
Adaptation: Janice Okoh
Director: Paul Robinson
The two theatres co-producing The Offing, Newcastle’s Live Theatre and the Stephen Joseph Theatre, more or less represent the two worlds that collide in Benjamin Myers’ novel. Robert, a 16-year-old boy from a Durham pit village, sets out in the immediate aftermath of World War Two to see the world and his tramp South takes him to Robin Hood’s Bay on the North Yorkshire coast.
There he encounters Dulcie, an enigmatic recluse in a remote cottage who introduces him to many of the good things in life such as wine and poetry while he clears the undergrowth that almost submerges her property. In one sense this is a coming of age novel, with Robert being inspired by Dulcie’s belief in him and her conviction that we should live life to the full.
However, it is also about Dulcie, with the aid of Robert, coming to terms with her memories. Her lover, Romy, an acclaimed young German poet, lived with her there and wrote her poems in a cabin which Dulcie built for her and which Robert now reclaims from the mice and the forces of Nature. As time passes, Robert makes discoveries that enable Dulcie to face up to Romy’s tragic fate and to return to the world.
Janice Okoh’s adaptation is generally pretty true to the original novel, even to bookending it with the aged reminiscences of Robert, including the rather over-rosy series of happy endings. However, much of the appeal to many readers lay in the detailed poetic description of nature and landscape – and, inevitably, little of this survives. Similarly the exoticism of Dulcie and Romy is diluted, especially Romy who appears as the third character whereas in the novel she is only a memory. Ingvild Lakou appears first as a dream or a ghost, but takes glamorous and tempestuous flesh and blood in a couple of flash-back scenes.
Cate Hamer’s Dulcie may be more eccentric than enigmatic, but she brings out the impulsive shifts and intellectual energy of the character admirably. James Gladdon is both too young and too old for the part of Robert, being neither 90 nor 16, but his transformation from worldly adult to naïve boy is highly convincing and he traces the awakening of self-confidence in the character with great skill.
The direction of Paul Robinson (who also contributed some additional material) generally negotiates the changes in tone successfully, though the crazy car ride is as much a misfit in the play as it is in the novel. Helen Goddard’s set, configured to face only two of the four sides of The Round, is atmospheric enough in its battered wood look and her costume designs neatly reflect the characters and the changes they go through in time. Ana Silvera’s music – folky vocals and instrumentals – provides a real bonus.
Less poetic and evocative than the novel, with the answer to the mystery suggested much earlier, Janice Okoh’s version has the advantage of making the characters more credible – or, lovers of the novel would say, the disadvantage of making them more mundane.
Runs until October 30th 2021