In one delightful scene of
The piece’s greatest strength is in the visuals, though the original score keeps the pace high throughout.
The trawlermen natter about Alf, an aging fellow fisherman struggling to stay in the industry, played by the puppeteers Matthew Lloyd and (his left arm, at least) by Molly Freeman. Alf is weatherbeaten, unexpectedly fragile and compelling to watch - his early interactions with the entirely human ensemble players as they ready Alf’s trawler are well choreographed and comic.
The choice to keep most of the dialogue recorded or off-stage works well in these ensemble scenes, as the cast ‘oi’ ‘eh’ and ‘ah’ their way through blink-and-you’ll-miss-it jokes. Mercifully, for a play set in Newlyn, there’s nary an ‘oo-ar’ to be heard.
An unfortunate side-effect, however, is the reliance on recordings to fill in blinking audience members on what they may have missed, or to provide crucial context that might come more naturally through dialogue. Thus Radio 4 broadcasts a very short, on-the-nose precis of the problems facing the fishing industry; while later, an emotional scene cuts off seemingly halfway through, because there’s only so far a conversation can run when your characters cannot speak. In the most egregious instance, a character leaves a voicemail to tell the audience exactly what went on in the previous five minutes. It’s a frustrating choice because those five minutes, full of imaginative, clear storytelling, are a highlight of the show.
The piece’s greatest strength is in the visuals, though the original score keeps the pace high throughout. The set design by Samuel Wyer is exquisite, combining extreme versatility - there are more set changes than one can count - with an aged authenticity, and again, the eye for detail. The boxes, crates and trunks are put to work, as are the many props, which are reused just enough to be innovative without seeming hackneyed or farfetched. Keep your eyes peeled - a few great moments pass quickly, such as a very effective driving scene.
Time is given to the side story of an anthropomorphic hoarder seagull, Gertie, which gives Hattie Thomas a chance to show off her skills. It’s a performance which brings a lot of charm and balances scenes explaining EU fishing quotas, or the darker notes hit at Ronnie Scott’s when Alf travels to London.
At times, the piece feels pulled in two directions - a state of the industry piece, bringing in environmental, political and economic arguments, and a personal family drama, painted in the broadest, often under-developed brushstrokes. As a result the ending fails to answer, or even address, all of the questions raised, and Alf moves from an everyman to an exceptional case.