Get Up and Tie Your Fingers
Ann Coburn, with a vocal score by Karen Wimhurst
The Guild of Lillians in collaboration with The Sage, Gateshead
Customs House, South Shields
Get Up and Tie Your Fingers was Ann Coburn's first play and won the 1997 John Whiting Award. This is a new version, with a vocal score for female voices, created for the Guild of Lillians (see our news story of 26th June). In this new incarnation it has become something more than a play; it turns into a lyrical, almost elegiac poem.
The play's story is simple: sixteen-year-old Molly wants to see the world, not spend her life gutting fish on the Eyemouth coast. She must learn to tie her fingers to protect them from the gutting knife; but the real struggle is about another tie - that between mother and daughter. When should we let our children go? Only when a hurricane hits the fleet, do the three women - Molly, her mother Jean and friend Janet - find out.
Based on the story of the Eyemouth Disaster of 1881, when twenty fishing boats - 129 men and boys - were drowned, the play shows the courage of the women of Eyemouth in the face of devastating loss. It ends positively, then, but the overall mood is of deep sadness, a mood deepened by the haunting quality of Karen Wimhurst's music. Based partly on traditional folk songs and a nineteenth century children's hymn, together with the plaintive, modern sound of Wimhurts's compositions, the four-part harmony was beautifully sung by the women of Customs' Voices, a community choir based at the venue. (At each venue a different choir performs.)
The performances of the cast of three - Jan Birkett (Jean), Chloe Lang (Molly) and Carol McGuigan (Janet) - must surely form the definitive version of the piece, and the set (designed by Alison Ashton) and lighting (by Jo Dawson) were equally effective and very pleasing to the eye. If I have a quibble, it is that the soundscape - or at least those parts which featured the spoken word - was a little too quiet, occasionally dropping below the threshold of audibility so we were left straining to hear what was being said. But that is so minor it is only worth mentioning as a something to be looked at for the next performance.
This is a real gem of a piece of theatre, deeply moving without mawkishness, and superbly realised. If you are in the North East, go and see it at the Saville Exchange, North Shields from 19th to 22nd July or the Sage, Gateshead, on 24th and 25th.
Reviewer: Peter Lathan