Lee Hall’s version of Dutch writer Herman Heijerman’s classic story concerning a fisherman’s life at the turn of the 20th century has been relocated to the Yorkshire fishing community of Whitby in 1901.
The story focuses on a small community whose livelihood depends on the sea. Mortality is high and the wives and mothers keep wait for weeks in hope that all their men return home safely. Kitty (Frances De La tour), who has already lost two sons and a husband to the sea is angry that her youngest son, Ben aged 17 does not want to go to sea because he is afraid. She belts him and forces him to go on ‘The Good Hope’, something he only does after being carried on board by two constables. His fear, increased by his conviction that ‘The Good Hope’ is rotten, favours little sympathy from his mother. After 8 weeks and no word from the ‘The Good Hope’ the worst is expected.
‘The Good Hope’ is an old boat that has just come out of repairs and been given a certificate of ‘Sea Worthiness’ by the insurers, possibly because of a bribe by the ship owner. However, it seems that the boat is rotten and the voyage is being made on the ‘hope’ that it has survived so many other excursions that surely it will survive this last one. Twelve men leave on this journey, Kitty’s two sons Ben and James, along with 10 other men from this small community. ‘The Good Hope’s’ secret is one that Mary, the ship owner’s daughter shares along with her father, which explains why she spends so much time with the fisherman’s family sharing small acts of charity, such as delivering soup to Kitty when she is unwell, despite her apparent dislike of them.
This touching and beautifully produced play captures the tone and hardship these people faced. This is graphically shown when Kitty, who had already lost 3 of her family to the sea still forces her younger child to go. Why? Her young boy was terrified but still she persisted. And when she had finally forced him to go she holds a going away party for his maiden voyage to show how proud she was. It is obvious she loved him so what drove her to this? Was it pride or simply because without the money the family would be homeless? Even so, if you ‘really’ loved your child would you make them do such a thing? Heijerman’s play is much more than this. It is also a political drama.
James, Kitty’s older son was in the Navy but was thrown out and sentenced to 6 months hard labour in prison because he struck an officer. When he returns to the village he challenges the boat owner about his business practices. The boat owner says that if it weren’t for him then the community would starve. However, James says that it is the men who go out to sea that puts food into all their mouths! There is some thought provoking dialogue between these two that is still argued about 100 years later!
The play has some beautiful music by John Tams, which is performed by a small band that also, become involved on stage. The music sets the atmosphere and tone of the drama along with a useful set design by Hayden Griffin with an upturned boat, old buildings, cobbled streets, and a fisherman’s house lit by candles along with an old fireplace.
There has been moderate notices from the popular press....NICHOLAS DE JONGH for THE EVENING STANDARD says the play “packs an overwhelming emotional punch.” And goes on to describe it as, “A theatrical revelation.” SUSANNAH CLAPP for THE OBSERVER says, "A fierce, lamenting ballad." KATE STRATTON for TIME OUT says, "Gritty elegant performances...outstanding is Tom Georgeson...." LYN GARDNER for THE GUARDIAN says, ", This play has a raging heart, a woman's heart. That's rare for a drama written in our own time; for one written over a century ago it is extraordinary." PAUL TAYLOR for THE INDEPENDENT says, "I can't remember when I last felt so morally obliged to admire a piece of theatre. Yet there were long stretches ....which I found a chore to sit through, at least with a straight face." PETER HEPPLE for THE STAGE says, "Its simplicity and even predictability makes this play a peculiarly satisfying experience and Hall's dialogue has a period charm of its own, with gently amusing comedy episodes..."
Lasting 2 hours 35 minutes, this is a poignant drama that will move you.
Links to full reviews from newspapers...