(reviewed at Sir John Mills Theatre, Ipswich on 19 December 2016)
You expect something different from Eastern Angles’ Christmas shows – and this year’s offering certainly lives up to that expectation. The script is by Harry Long and produced in partnership with the West Country-based Shanty Theatre Company. The story (yes, there is one, and it’s based on fact) concerns what happened in 1896 when East Anglian fishing-boats muscled in on the mackerel shoals around Newlyn.
At that period, most of the Newlyn fishermen were staunch Methodists, not putting to sea between Saturday sunset and Monday dawn. The East Anglians (nicknamed “Yorkies” in Cornwall) had no such scruples and cornered the weekend market by loading their catches onto the early Monday morning train to Billingsgate market in London.
Unsurprisingly, rioting ensued which involved over 1,000 Cornish men. Long’s script homes in on just a few main characters, neatly defined for the audience by wearing their names (or those of their boats) on skirts or tarpaulins. Mags (Louise Callaghan) is our heroine, an attractive committed Methodist who falls for not-too-bright Norman (Long) who, among other educational deficiencies, has no idea of what Methodism might be.
No story to do with the sea would be complete without a thorough-going villain. Christian Edwards plays Brassy, all country-gentleman tweeds and shooting-stick; he is the owner of the boats attempting to muscle in on the Cornish mackerel harvest. Mabel Clements and David Copeland complete the cast which – Tim Bell’s production is in the full Eastern Angles tradition of 17 parts (not to mention songs, dances and instrumental accompaniments) being shared among a minimum quantity of players.
Verity Quinn has designed some interesting sets and costumes. Stu McLoughlin is the composer with Barnaby Southgate as musical director. Penny Griffin’s lighting adds to the atmosphere. It may be slightly offbeat even for an Eastern Angles Christmas show but this collaboration with a like-minded theatre company suggests that the seeds of similar productions may already be germinating.
Holy Mackerel! is at the Seckford Theatre, Woodbridge until 23 January and at the Key Theatre, Peterborough between 26 and 30 January.