Writer: James McDermott
Director: Rob Ellis
In a very literal sense, James McDermott’s new comedy, premiering here, is an end-of-the-pier show. Its setting is May’s Caff, realised in Caitlin Abbott’s carefully detailed set design with bright colours and plastic gingham table cloths. The caff stands on Cromer pier on the Norfolk coast and the writer uses this location as a springboard to question life’s values with gentle humour and explore the dividing lines that separate platonic friendships and something more.
May is in her 50s, unmarried and, like the play’s title, she waits for no man, planning instead to move in with a divorced woman at her home down the coast in Suffolk. She is devoted to Bette Davis and may (or may not) have been a dancer when younger, but Wendy Nottingham puts a spring in her step anyway. She behaves as if a surrogate mother to the two 18-year-old waiters, Nemo and Daz, and fends off the amorous advances of the bread delivery man, Ken. The “For Sale” signs are up over the caff, so the and of an era is nearing.
“Norfolk’s a great place to grow up, it’s a great place to end up, but the bit in the middle – life – no” May tells Nemo, urging him to take up a drama course in London, with a view to becoming “the next Judi Dench”. McDermott writes sensitively about the conflicts between moving on to pastures new and staying at home with friends, family and familiar surroundings. In part, the play is an homage to a dying part of England, one that is being swept away by a tide of globalisation, but it finds parallels on a more intimate level by delving into its characters’ torn affections as they face up to personal change.
The relationship between Nottingham’s caring and protective May and Josh Barrow’s clumsy and diffident Nemo gives the play its warm heart. Nemo is openly gay and wears his emotions on his sleeve, having been deeply hurt by his closest friend Daz’s failure to turn up at his leaving party. Elliot Liburd gives Daz a cocky swagger as he boasts about his female conquests, but then reveals his inner torment at struggling to come to terms with his real sexuality and his feelings for Nemo.
Ken, played with true gusto by Paul Easom, is an archetypal grumpy old man, complaining constantly about how the world is changing for the worse and believing that there is nothing better than watching an episode of Diagnosis Murder. His specific gripe is how May’s and other caffs on his round are being taken over by the likes of “Pret A Manager”, thereby destroying traditional lifestyles in places like Cromer. Change in the name of progress seems inexorable, but the play asks whether this needs to be the case.
The leisurely pace of director Rob Ellis’s production varies subtly to reflect mood swings between pathos and humour, always allowing four fine performances to flourish. This may seem like a small play about small things, but it is touching, truthful, funny and well worth spending time on.
Runs until 29 February 2020