Monday, 5 February 2018

REVIEW: Booby's Bay at the Finborough Theatre

The Finborough Theatre building 150th anniversary season has begun with two world and one European premieres of new plays and the latest offering is Henry Darke's first full length play Booby's Bay. The young Cornish man was selected as one of the Royal court fifty most promising playwrights and has set the play in his home county. Booby's Bay is a small rural community apparently named after the rather stupid Booby bird that was virtually tame and now one of the Cornish beaches popular with surfers. It is a protest play and the writing shows real promise as it is packed with ideas and themes. The central character, Huck is angry about much of the Cornwall community development and finds himself isolated and in conflict with his friends and family. HIs protests cover overfishing by modern fishing vessels, commercialisation of the town, absent fathers, pollution of the seas, fake news and homelessness. He is a lone voice, the arguments are never fully developed and it difficult to feel sympathy for him, even when we learn about the tragic past that has driven his isolation. 

The play over three acts without an interval almost has too much to say which combined with local Cornish dialect and local references makes it hard work at times over the 110 minutes running time and would benefit from stronger comic and light relief elements. Director Chris White has created a breathless race, with some longer speeches delivered without pause or change of tone and even the scene changes being active moments with cast chanting and singing as they reset. Huck returns frequently to chanting Om mani padme hum, the Tibetan Buddhist mantra but we never sense the enlightened awareness he seeks provides the understanding to save anyone, even himself.

The tiny stage, severely limited by the shape of the building which provides the back wall of the space, means the locations are sparsely furnished with a bare minimum of practical props that leaves much to the imagination. Although the practical hob does enable Huck to cook a mackerel for no obvious reason except to fill the space with the delicious smell of the fish!

There is a strong cast of five playing the seven characters in the play. Oliver Bennet plays the rebellious intense Huck full of anger and lacking in any emotional intelligence as he pursues his protests without any credible plan. His mother Liz, played with energy and sense of fun by Esther Coles, gets many of the best comedy moments as she cleans the hut and commentates on the surfing. The love interest is provided by Florence Roberts as Jeanie the centre of a love triangle, although she never convinces that she loves either man. Daz is the local surfing hero, played with a raw and dangerous undercurrent by Bradley
Taylor and is perhaps the most successfully developed character. The fifth member of the cast is Ivan, the newly arrived journalist, played by Joseph Chance who gets little chance to be more than an observer.

This is an interesting snapshot of life in Cornwall with the tensions the influx of visitors create between local residents and Darke's writing is packed with dramatic ideas. But, it is not fully realised by the the limited space and the breathless direction without an interval and the characters are not fully developed despite the best efforts of the cast.

Review by Nick Wayne 

Rating: ★★★
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