Andrew Barron, Rosie Thomson, Harry Hepple, Aaron Foy, Gemma Soul
Having spent most of my childhood summers in Walberswick, I was keen to see Eastern Angels/HighTide’s latest production, which arrives at the Bush following successful runs at the Fringe and Halesworth’s HighTide Festival.
Written by Joel Horwood and directed by Lucy Kerbel, it features three teenagers Wheeler, Fitz and Dani and their middle aged parents, who all live in or around Walberswick a picturesque village on the east coast of England, also known as Hampstead-on-Sea”.
It’s also the location of the annual British Open Crabbing Championships.
This pretty Suffolk spot has gone from just another seaside village to a popular second-home destination for middle class media darlings. Drawn by the famous residents such as Emma Freud and her husband Richard Curtis, they spend their time dribble(ing) organic ice cream and in the art galleries and expensive delis that have led to its pseudonym.
Crabbing is a rite of passage in Walberswick with holidaymakers and locals packing its prime crab-fishing spots trying to catch those scrawny brown crabs you catch with bacon on a string, keep in a bucket for a bit, then chuck back. It is however, the more traditional teenage rites of package like sex, drugs and exams that Horwood focuses on.
The play’s title may be a slogan printed onto gifts found in local gift shops but it’s also a reference to the double entendre and sexual innuendo of the teenage characters. Wheeler has also recently had crabs himself due a sexual indiscretion, a fact which will later lead to a surprising plot twist.
The play begins with the two boys fishing on the bridge on the evening before their final GCSE exam. Wheeler (the more academically gifted) is keen to forget revising to go to a party but Fitz wants to get home for some last minute cramming. The boys aren’t from Walberwick but a less salubrious village near by called Reydon. These are the real Suffolk locals left behind when the second home-owners and holiday traffic leave.
The evening is disrupted by the introduction of Dani, the embodiment of the aforementioned middle classes. Played by Gemma Soul, Dani is the beautiful and obnoxious daughter of a divorced psychologist and a failed artist, and home from boarding school. She has all the swagger and self-confidence that a life of privilege brings and is on the hunt of a good time.
With her mini skirt and bikini she becomes their focus with exams, girlfriends and parties forgotten. The three instead embark on a night out in nearby Lowestoft, via the 8.06pm from Beccles.
As well as narrating, Andrew Barron and Rosie Thomson play the parents of the teenagers. They are seen through the eyes of their children, dysfunctional and unhappy. Is this, we think, the bright future they had hoped for when they were sixteen? Although they do well in the roles, it is the teenagers we are really interested in.
As rites of passage go, it’s pretty standard. Boys meet girl, bunk off, lie to their parents and get into a club to drink and take drugs. The ‘twist’ later on the night is a little predictable and the resulting friendship breakdown is unexpected and insufficiently explained.
The skill here is in the depiction of the sparky dialogue and fast moving relationships of teenagers with good writing and performances. Those cringe worthy attempts to impress the opposite sex, talk to parents and pull, are recreated convincingly. Soul in particular is buttock clenchingly arrogant in that way only teenagers can be; whether she’s torturing her mother or strutting her stuff. She is oblivious to the hypnotic effect she’s having on Harry Hepple as a cheeky Wheeler and Aaron Foy as the less ebullient Fitz.