Several years ago, John Osborne got a job teaching at a summer school in the seaside town of Weymouth in Dorset. It was on the third day of his new job that a combination of stress and a terrible mood brought him down to the beach during his lunch break. This hour-long performance is based on that lunch-break walk and the things he saw whilst taking off his shoes and walking along in the sand.
This is not just a story about a particular beach. It is a story about seaside towns, the Sun, beaches and what they all mean to people in Britain and elsewhere. On the day that John Osborne took his walk, the beach was blessed with ‘Evian weather’ and loads of people, old and young, families and individuals, saw their chance to enjoy something that in Britain can only be described as a rarity. This is a performance dedicated to their story, at a particular point in time, at a particular beach in Weymouth.
As the audience enters the auditorium, a single screen is showing an old film montage of beaches, sand and people. Then John Osborne enters the stage and starts telling his story. The show feels almost more like a spoken-word performance than a piece of theatre, as the only focal point is Osborne and his voice, only rarely interrupted by the images shown on the screen. It is a beautiful performance and the audience sits mesmerized as a story unfolds: a story about the love, hope, nostalgia and happiness felt by the people he saw that day at the beach. He is nothing but a master of storytelling, giving us a beautifully written piece of theatre and a performance both funny, nostalgic and poignant, all at the same time.
Being able to hold an audience’s attention for an hour with no other tool than the strength and power of your voice is an achievement indeed. Although the performance drags on a bit towards the end, On the Beach by John Osborne is a beautiful piece of storytelling, bound to enchant listeners whenever it is performed.