Tuesday, March 24, 2015



Eastern Angles at the Cramphorn Theatre, Chelmsford


As my morning paper points out today, “no other food has had such a whirligig history as the oyster”.
Some of that history is included - “shoe-horned” the writer/director admits – into this intriguing documentary play, touring the region this spring as a result of a commission from the Pioneer Sailing Trust, based in Brightlingsea,
Ivan Cutting's piece is unashamedly didactic – there's Pearl, dressed up as a mythical goddess to bring the story of the oyster - “the naughty fruit of the sea” to primary schools, there's boatbuilding done as expressive dance, there's even a whiteboard which doubles as a screen for the wonderful wood-cut designs by renowned East Anglian artist James Dodds, who was born in Brightlingsea, and began his career as an apprentice shipwright …
The set features the tools of the trade, trestles, the curved ribs of a boat and a Heath Robinson keg for steaming the timber to shape.
Like many Eastern Angles productions, it's a rich mix. Almost to the point of being indigestible. The death of boat-building, the “restoration” of an oyster smack, the regeneration of The Slipway. And a boatload of curious characters.
At the centre of it all, Mo, short for Moses, the touchy, taciturn boat-builder whose workshop is invaded by apprentices and PR people from the Council. A compelling performance from Terence Frisch: wry humour, short temper. Kiki Kendrick is the storyteller Pearl as well as the manipulative Pamela, Hephzibah Roe the posh intern. And Jeannie Dickinson is outstanding as a one-woman quartet: a nurse, a Scots constable, Angie the apprentice, and, less convincingly, perhaps, Andrea the re-enactor PR person who “coxes for both crews”.
This oyster stew is crammed with ideas – gentrification, pollution, the loss of heritage, the youth of today, identity. Theseus' ship is referenced but not named. Names that are dropped into the mix include Stephen Fry, Richard Dawkins. Immanuel Kant, David Hume, Melvyn Bragg, T S Eliot and Bob the Builder.
I might have preferred a little less content, and some meatier characterization; often these people were speaking only to convey ideas. Nonetheless, a fascinating look at a craft which has managed to hang on into the 21st century, and a brilliant way of bringing the work of the Trust to a wider East Anglian audience. Now, when's the next bus to Brightlingsea …

Brightlingsea Past and Present by James Dodds
production photograph by Mike Kwasniak

Eastern Angles are bringing Oysters back to Essex - Maldon, Margaretting, Brentwood and the boatyard in Brightlingsea itself

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