Shropshire Events and Whats On Guide

Shropshire Events and Whats On Guide

Driftwood – Pentabus and Thick Skinned Theatre

The beach is bleak at Seaton Carew. Something unspeakable is poisoning the crabs. A looming Freeport – developed to mitigate the economic strangulation of Brexit – spoils the view.

And somewhere under the grey waves of the North Sea lies a wrecked ship, haunted by a mythical Mariner who claims the souls of the dead. That was Dad’s story, told to his boys as they played together on the sand.

Now Dad is on his deathbed and his adult sons are debating whether or not they need planning permission to build a funeral pyre to fulfil father’s wishes. A holy ‘barbeque on the beach’ for his final journey.

This exquisitely written play naturally explores the raw emotions of a paternal passing – but Tim Foley’s words cartwheel into territory well beyond the expected.

It’s an extremely well-made play which begins at the end.

Anyone who has directed ‘The Tempest’ will know how utterly demanding it is to portray a storm convincingly on stage. Directors Neil Bettles and Elle While take us beneath the sea into a maelstrom of riptides, thrashing bubbles and hues of blue. The startling video effects are accompanied by a terrific sound/music track by Lee Affen.  And into all this are hurled two half-drowned actors. It must have been stunning on a village hall stage … because it’s pretty impressive on-line. And the clever construction of Foley’s play treats us to an eventual reprise.

The actors are superb. James Westphal plays the urbanised elder son Mark, who has got himself a new boyfriend and a career in Manchester. Jerome Yates is his baby-faced brother Tiny, who never moved away and has had to care for his dying Dad for four years. He is still carrying him, whereas Mark has been distant. So, the grief is steeped with guilt.

They scarify their situation, scratching away at the unholy mess of truth and lies. Mark – the realist – is in ‘event management’. He struggles with emotions and the need to go and say ‘goodbye’. “How does he look”, he asks. “Old and small”, replies Tiny, flatly.

Mark is ideally placed to serve his Dad ‘hands off’ by making the practical arrangements. Tiny’s view of the world is more metaphysical, more feely touchy, more aware of his father’s spiritual needs.

So, Foley creates a rich carpet of conflict for the bedrock of his play.

He also gives us bright kingfisher flashes of humour. Tiny describes the art of ice cream Yoga – the Buddhist way to consume a creamy cone. Mark asks if the beach café’s ‘All Day Breakfast’ has chips, and reckons that if it has, it doesn’t qualify as a ‘breakfast’. But the audience must catch on quick, less these gems are lost among the weightier words.

Both performances are beautifully crafted. Every syllable is carefully considered. The timing is down to a nano-second. The characterisation is supremely believable. They are a pleasure to watch.

‘Driftwood’ is a hugely satisfying and insightful play. We’ve all been there (though, perhaps, not quite like this). But it’s the pushing of the boundaries of fractured relationship that pours light onto our own experiences of family loss … and calms our troubled waters.

In the end the play is refreshingly uplifting.  ‘Driftwood’ doesn’t stop where you might imagine it would – but goes on to an unexpected resolution.

It is so good to see the tide turn.

Chris Eldon Lee