BACKING new writing talent is what the Finborough Theatre does best. Sometimes the end product disappoints but more often than not it is greeted as enthusiastically as a big wave that a surfer has just seen coming on the horizon.
Booby’s Bay is the latest demonstration of the Finborough making a good judgement call. This play literally thrashes its way onto West London’s shores. It is original, written by a new Cornish playwright (Henry Darke), and is funny with it, while raising some key issues.
Yes, there is a strong surfing element to it all but Booby’s Bay – a real surfer’s paradise near Padstow – is much more besides. It addresses the after effects of tragic family loss, the blight of second homes in many holiday locations and the difficulties many locals face in finding employment that will keep them above the poverty line. The fragility of the environment is also explored.
Ambitious? Yes. The theatrical equivalent of a Cornish paella. Does Darke pull it off? Just about, helped in big part by a young cast who give the play a real impetus. Even the doubling up of some parts succeeds, especially in the case of Florence Roberts who seamlessly moves from pregnant Jeanie to sassy barmaid Cassandra and back again.
At the heart of the play is hunky Huck (Oliver Bennett) who has yet to recover from the loss of his fisherman brother Jay at sea seven years ago. A loss that he feels guilty about because he was unable to go out to sea with him that fateful day as he was still too drunk.
Huck, now prone to lapsing into zen-like states, gets by but only just – making odds and sods from driftwood. He sleeps in an empty second home while the owners are away, a property that his mother Liz (a wonderfully zany Esther Coles) cleans and on the side sub-lets out on the quiet (along with other second homes she has the cleaning keys to). Illegal entrepreneurship but you have to admire her – needs must.
Hunky Huck, who fillets and cooks a mean mackerel (yes, on stage) has an on off girlfriend (Roberts’ Jeanie) who paints sea snakes for a living. She is also in a relationship with local surfing hero Daz (a physically commanding Bradley Taylor) who can’t half talk for Cornwall and his homeland of Birmingham. He is prone to wild exaggeration but has a certain charm. Allegedly he has fought off Great Whites in his time. Dazzer’s world occupies a tightrope between reality and fantasy.
Into the mackerel frying pan is poured the oil of Jeanie’s pregnancy. Who will she ‘choose’ to be the father. The real Dad, handsome but unpredictable Huck – a lost soul? Or dazzling and dependable Daz who is hoping to win a forthcoming surfing contest and go onto great things? Australia beckons – and another chance to do battle with Great Whites. Maybe, for real this time.
Poor big Daz believes he is the father of Jeanie’s baby. Oh dear. As for Jeanie, you have to admire her chutzpah, playing Huck off Daz and vice versa.
When Huck decides to make a stand about the issue of empty second homes by inviting a local reporter to interview him (Joseph Chance’s Ivan), things start to kick off between Huck and Daz. Apart from the rather important issue of disputed paternity there are festering problems from the past to chuck yet more oil into the frying pan. Namely Brummie school boy Daz being bullied by Cornish lads of which Huck was one.
It all ends tragically which given the Jay backdrop is not surprising – but there is a message or two to come out of it all that ring rather true. Namely that sometimes it is only in death that some people’s contributions are truly appreciated. And that in pandering to the metropolitan elite who love their bricks and mortar, parts of Britain are slowly being denuded of life – both human and wild forms.
Booby’s Bay is fresh and not frightened to tackle big issues. The cast, who all speak in Cornish dialect, do not put a foot wrong with Roberts excelling as both the two-boyfriend Jeanie and the floosy Cassandra. Bennett manages to pack pounds of idealism into the flawed Huck while Coles is also fun as a mother with loose morals who loves a tipple or two.
But the standout is Taylor who is commanding in his wetsuit. Yet strip away the suit, ignore the banter and all the muscles in all the right places and you soon realise that Daz is nothing more than someone desperate for love and respect. Taylor gets his Daz just right.
Booby’s Bay, directed skilfully by Chris White, is like Cornish ice cream. Surprisingly delicious although some may beg to disagree (the second home brigade). Try it out. It plays until 24 February.
Huck: Oliver Bennett
Liz: Esther Coles
Jeanie/Cassandra: Florence Roberts
Daz: Bradley Taylor
Ivan: Joseph Chance
Director: Chris White
Set and costume designer: Paul Burgess