Sea Fret, Old Red Lion Theatre – Review

7 - AFPhotography-517 (Lucy Carless & Georgia Kerr)
Lucy Careless (Ruby) and Georgia Kerr (Lucy): Sea Fret

In recent years there has been a growing number of plays from female playwrights about coastal communities at the mercy of the ebb and flow of the seasons (Tabitha Mortiboy’s Beacons and Lucy Catherine’s Sea Life to name but a few.) Tallulah Brown’s Sea Fret – which is directed by Carla Kingham and currently running at the Old Red Lion Theatre – certainly fits this mould: an ode to the Suffolk coastline and an acknowledgement of women as the true custodians of the environment.

Ruby (Lucy Careless) and Lucy (Georgia Kerr) are best friends. Having recently left school, they have spent the summer getting drunk, partying and generally enjoying themselves. But the autumn brings many changes – least of which is Kate going to university and the local town meeting regarding action –  if any – to stall the erosion of the coastline and safeguard the local houses. Pam (Karen Brooks) – Lucy’s mother rallies the girls and Jim (Philippe Spall) – Ruby’s father to prepare what they’re going to say at the town meeting. But all in their own way are reticent to give it their fullest attention, before Pam reminds them of its imminency.

Tonally, Sea Fret is a play of two halves, with the pre-interval Act very much a farewell to adolescence, a coming of age story. The second half of the play which is set around Christmastime contrasts the very different circumstances that Ruby and Lucy find themselves. Rising to challenge, it is Ruby who is the primary organiser for makeshift, landfill-based beach defence, while Jim does his best to keep up. Only he’s thinking of the long-term view. How long can they keep this up for? Then there’s the matter of them being the talk of the town of Canton – and not in a good way…

10 - AFPhotography-640 (Karen Brooks & Philippe Spall)
Karen Brooks (Pam) and Philippe Spall (Jim)

Pam, meanwhile, lives comfortably in her new home, with a greenhouse to boot. The disparity in circumstances between herself, and Jim and Ruby is frankly embarrasing. It’s only once Lucy returns home that the penny drops about why their former friends keep themselves to themselves…

Ruby makes a big impression throughout the play  and Carless is a natural as the fearless, go-getter who doesn’t do anything by halves. Beyond her confident exterior, Ruby is complex. Naturally very bright, she doesn’t draw attention to this. And while she initially adopts Jim’s current laissez-faire attitude, like Shakespeare’s Prince Hal, circumstances force her to put her pleasure-seeking days behind her and be like how her father used to be: passionate about preserving their home and area – by any means necessary.

11 - AFPhotography-649 (Philippe Spall & Lucy Carless)
Darker days: Ruby keeps watch over the beach at night

While Ruby is outwardly the most socially confident of the girls, it is through Lucy’s eyes – the cleverest girl in town – that Ruby sees herself, whose opinion she values. And while Pam doesn’t naturally take to Ruby’s ‘reckless’ demeanour, she recognises in her something of herself, which makes her all the more disappointed at Ruby not being all she can be.

Lucy refers to Ruby as “King Canut” for wanting to hold back the tidal erosion from town indefinitely. In some ways it would be more accurate to describe Jim and Ruby as a modern day Prospero and Miranda – left by everyone they formerly knew and facing the current storms alone…

© Michael Davis 2017

Sea Fret runs at Old Red Lion Theatre until 22nd April 2017.

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