SEA Fret is a term used to describe a wet sea mist. It is also the title of a new play at the Old Red Lion Theatre in Islington, North London. It lives up to its name, enveloping the viewer for two hours as relationships twist and the tide turns.
It is written by Tallulah Brown, a young and talented playwright who has already won acclaim for Phantasmagoria, There’s a Monster in the Lake and After the Heat we Battle for the Heart. I get the feeling we will hear a lot more about this talented individual in the coming years.
At the core of the play is ‘erosion’ – not just of a physical kind (as in erosion of the coast) but how it can eat away at relationships than once seemed life-long.
The play is framed around a pillbox situated close to the fictitious East Anglian coastal town of Canton. It is surrounded by pebbles while the sound of the sea never dies throughout. Islington-on-Sea.
At the play’s core are two teenage friends Ruby (Lucy Carless, making her theatrical debut) and Lucy (Georgia Kerr) who have spent a hedonistic summer together ahead of Lucy going off to university.
The pillbox is daubed with graffiti, providing a graphic history of their times together and their various encounters with boys and drugs. I spotted more than one drawing of a penis.
Ruby is the extrovert – gobby, confident, sexually experienced and a drug dealer. Lucy is the more studious, restrained and a virgin (allegedly). Standing behind them are Jim (Ruby’s father) and Pam (Lucy’s mother).
Like Ruby and Lucy, Jim (a splendid Philippe Spall) and Pam (Karen Brooks) are complete opposites
Jim is all drugs, drink and drifting. He also has a penchant for bursting into song when the mood takes him. Sea Fret? More Sea Shanty. Jim is a loveable drifter with a chip on his shoulder who thinks the world is railing against him.
Pam, meanwhile, is all bossiness, kale and green Hunter wellies, keen to get Jim to turn up at an imminent council meeting and demand that it helps arrest the coast’s erosion that is in danger of devouring Jim’s home. Jim is more interested in weed (of the smoking kind).
The bonds then unravel in spectacular fashion as Lucy disappears off to university. Ruby, spooked by a young man she sold drugs to spiralling into a coma, reinvents herself as a caring subdued daughter determined to keep the family home from the ravages of the sea, even if it means breaking the law.
In doing so, Lucy and Ruby jettison each other from their lives. When Lucy returns from university, Sea Fret, Sea Shanty becomes Sea Frost. They can barely speak to each other. An air of frostiness prevails.
While Ruby remains a pillar of strength throughout (‘I’m King Canute,’ she screams at one stage), Jim finally capitulates. The bonds that once linked him and Pam have long snapped.
Sea Fret is a thought-provoking play. Special mentions must go to Spall (a stand out performance) and Carless who gives little indication that Sea Fret is her theatrical baptism of fire (or should that be water?)
The set, designed by Ruta Irbite, is marvellous given the confines of the Old Red Lion. Production company Loose Tongue also deserves a gold star for backing Tallulah Brown.
Brown’s play is on until April 22. If you are in London and have an evening to spare (two hours, with a twenty minute interval break), I would breeze on down to the Old Red Lion (a minute from Angel Tube Station) and give it a crack.
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