The Tide Jetty

Tony Ramsey
Eastern Angles
Kirton Church Hall

The Broads in Norfolk is a strange and beautiful place where I spent many happy holidays as a child while its strange landscape worked its magical fingers through my imagination. But how do you re-create the weird desolation of the marshes and the winding, calm canals juxtapositioned with the choppy expanse of Breydon Water on stage in a small village hall?

The answer is an ingenious and ethereal set designed by Jasmine Swan consisting of almost 3D landscaped backdrops and a movable wooden jetty, along with an atmospheric lighting design from resident stage manager Penny Griffin and some beautiful sound effects to conjure rippling water and the cry of the birds that inhabit the marshes.

Against this backdrop, the four-strong cast play out the story of an engineer, James Morton (Benjamin Teare), who has arrived to work on a new quay with his wife Eliza (Laura Costello), originally from the area, and his stepdaughter Annie (Megan Valentine), on the cusp of womanhood, who is looking to follow James into engineering but also longs to know more about her drowned father and what shaped her past.

It’s not long before Eliza becomes reacquainted with her old childhood sweetheart Tucky (Abe Buckoke), now living in a rotting houseboat by the old Tide Jetty, and the story begins to unfold concerning their past life, a drowned brother and connections impossible to escape.

The Broads has a really interesting history and the people who lived and worked there are fascinating. The problems with this play are that there is very little in the way of historical detail to allow us to place the plot in time or area if you don’t know much about the Broads region and, although well executed, the story of these people is so slowly spun out that it is hard to get any pace from the action, such as it is, or to feel much for these characters who give so little away.

It’s got to be said that the songs written by Chris Warner don’t help. Although meant to convey atmosphere, they in fact are so dirge-like that they bog the story down rather than add anything to it or move it along. And the continual shifting of planks of wood by the cast from one side of the stage to the other create irritation rather than purpose.

Having said that, the choreographed sequences (by movement director Simon Carroll-Jones)—especially Benjamin Teare’s opening as brother Nathan—are really well executed and the accompanying music really does help to convey their watery world.

As far as the rest of the evening goes, the cast do their best with a rather elusive script that doesn't give them an awful lot to work with. Megan Valentine is probably best of the bunch with a sensitive portrayal of daughter Annie, torn between two separate worlds, yet wanting to make her own mark. And it is a shame the accents are more generic ‘country’ rather than genuine Norfolk.

A brave attempt to create the Broads on stage, but a missed opportunity I feel to convey more about the history of the quay and the jetty and more about the lives of those who lived there.

Reviewer: Suzanne Hawkes