DramaReviewSouth East

The Tide Jetty – John Peel Centre, Stowmarket

Writer: Tony Ramsay

Director: Scott Hurran

Reviewer: Michael Gray

Like all of Eastern Angles’ most successful productions, this story is firmly rooted in the region.

It tells the timeless, tragic tale of two brothers, Tucky and Nathan, who spend an idyllic childhood on the banks of Breydon Water, where the Norfolk Broads meet the North Sea. Their constant companion is the lively, boyish Eliza. But adolescence complicates their relationship, and an awful tragedy puts a brutal end to the idyll.

But The Tide Jetty is much more complex and deeply layered than this. Far from a linear narrative, it makes us discover, and unravel, the relationships we see played out across the years on the slowly rotting planks, piles and staithes.

Tony Ramsay’s thoughtful, deeply felt piece is enhanced in this atmospheric production by the set: Jasmine Swan, who is also responsible for the lived-in costumes, has given this liminal, littoral space a flexible arrangement of rocks and weather-beaten timber, as well as the jetty itself. And, suggesting the vast expanse of the estuary, beautifully textured flats with reeds. It is further helped by the sound design. We are surrounded by field recordings – made by Chris Warner, the composer and sound designer, with the playwright, on the very waters which inspired the drama. The lapping of the tide, the call of the bittern, help the actors to suggest a wide world beyond the auditorium, which in this case is the old Corn Hall in Stowmarket, but is travelling all over the region, bringing Breydon Water to village halls, studio theatres and a site-specific venue on the Broads.

The other great strength of Scott Hurran’s production is the stylised movement (Simon Carroll-Jones), bringing a raw physicality to the action, and, with the music, giving dramatic life to the water – “high water slack, the world holding its breath” – “soft rain falling still on Breydon”.

Four actors play six characters. Abe Buckoke is entirely convincing as Tucky. Living, as many men did in the nineteenth century, in a houseboat by the shore, he insists that his story cannot be told without the jetty. His younger brother Nathan (Benjamin Teare) – “the boy Cupid” – also seeks Eliza’s hand in marriage. He finds peace in the water; a heart-breaking In Moonlight sequence movingly blends movement and music. “The water takes a life away, the water brings it back.” He is a constant presence, though, a fond memory for Eliza, a confidant for Tucky. Teare is also Morton the hard-headed engineer, “not good at showing what he feels”, who is keen to condemn the rotting jetty, before he is tempted away to oversee a new dock on the Delaware. Laura Costello is Eliza, young girl and care-worn mother, the transition underlined by a band in the hair. And Megan Valentine plays her daughter Annie, as well as the shady contractor Mr Nudd.

All four performers combine to superb effect in the movement sequences. There are some wonderful stage pictures – by Penny Griffin the lighting designer – Eliza in profile against the reeds, the confrontations between her husband and an intransigent Tucky. There is gentle symbolism, too, the measuring chain for the ambitious New Woman, the plank bridges removed to thwart the retracing of tracks, and of course the tide jetty itself, shaping nature to the needs of man, whose ghost still shows itself at low tide today, haunting the Water like the shades of Breydoners long gone.

It would be a shame to explain the tangled relationship between the characters. And perhaps no-one gets what they wanted at the end. Yet the ending when it comes seems positive, though little is resolved, and we are left to ponder the fate of those whose lives overlapped years ago at the water’s edge.

A deep, unsettling piece, given just the production it needs, telling the East of England another of its secret stories.

Reviewed on 21 March 2019 | Image: Mike Kwasniak

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Thoughtful, deeply felt piece

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