Eastern Angles – Sir John Mills Theatre
4th December 2015
Amid the preponderance of traditional Christmas Pantos taking up stage space around our theatres at this time of year, there are a few less traditional theatre performances available, which don’t involve overly made-up dames and principal boys.
One such show is Holy Mackerel by Harry Long, produced by Eastern Angles in association with the Shanty Theatre Company at the Sir John Mills Theatre, Ipswich. Based against the backdrop of the real life Newlyn fish wars of 1896 – yes we’ve been fighting over our fish long before Iceland in the 60s and 70s!
But what, you might ask, is seasonal in a tale about fish wars? Well, it features a bumbling hero, the pretty young girl he falls in love with, a wicked brother, a charismatic, if slightly suspect, religious leader, a moral dilemma, a boy band – what is it about boy bands this season? Oh, and a happy ending. And at one point when the physic Wesleyan questions: “You aren’t East Anglians, are you” some of the audience began to shout out “Oh yes we are” but rapidly remembered that it wasn’t that type of Christmas show!
The talented cast of five play eighteen parts – often with a simple change of hat to denote character changes. I suspect the theatrical device of having their names embroidered on their clothing is as much to help them remember who they are at any given point, as it is an aid for the audience.
We learned much about theatrical conventions as the cast drifted off and discussed them during delivery and then there were the nuances of subtext… Harry Long’s cleverly crafted dialogue is subtle and would perhaps benefit from a more traditional stage rather than the central staging configuration of the Sir John Mills Theatre, where actors need to consciously deliver to audiences on both sides of the stage – but this is a minor point.
Throughout the show Mabel Clements morphed seamlessly between the sweet angelic Kerra and Alice the rabid psychic on a lead. An intentionally less seamless transformation between Fisk, the trawler man and Brassy, the wicked brother was carried off with perfect theatrical awkward timing by Christian Edwards. Appealing to the absurd side of my sense of humour was the scene in the Harbour Master’s office, a piece of traditional farce done well by Daniel Copeland (Harbour Master), Louise Callaghan (Harbour Master) and Harry Long (Harbour Master)!
The true art of the morality play is to entertain whilst, almost subconsciously, presenting a message. Strip away the superficial in this tale and you are left with religious and cultural differences, radicalism, practical needs and a devious subplot. A poignant reflection of the world we live in, if you care to see it.