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Fisher life at heart of powerful play

By Margaret Chrystall

REVIEW: Lost At Sea

Eden Court

* * * *

AN ambitious piece of drama, Lost At Sea takes you right to the heart of a North East fishing community to find the truth about the death of a female journalist's fisherman father.

With playwright Morna Young’s own fisher background and her research talking to those who live that life, there are naturalistic, authentic Doric voices throughout the play, telling the audience how it is, was and might be.

From what it feels like to be waiting at home when the men are “at the sea” to finding the corpse of your friend after a boat goes down, the play shares powerful and emotional experiences, climaxing in a spoken roll call of voices of those fishermen lost from the North East from 1970 to 2012.

At the play’s core are two stories.

The plan to buy a fishing boat by Cain and Abel-style brothers, Kevin and Jock, brings conflict.

Shona wants to know why – when she was just a small child – her father was lost at sea. And poignantly, she also wants to discover what the shadowy Jock was really like.

To allow her to do that, Morna Young has added the character Skipper, who “transcends all worlds”, talks to living and dead characters and takes Shona back and forward in the play’s timeline to get to the truth.

Lost At Sea – from left - Kim Gerard, Jennifer Black, Ali Craig and Helen McAlpine. Picture: Mihaela Bodlovic
Lost At Sea – from left - Kim Gerard, Jennifer Black, Ali Craig and Helen McAlpine. Picture: Mihaela Bodlovic

Skipper, played by Tam Dean Burn, is at times over-the-top in a performance that is warm, strong and loud compared to the rest of the cast who are restrained and naturalistic. In contrast, at times, that can make Burn’s performance seem to verge on pantomime. But transcending the rules of the ordinary world, his larger-than-life persona can force characters, particularly Jock’s brother Kevin, to be truthful to help Shona to “go write the history”, as he says.

The sea is a constant presence from the start of the play where Skipper goes through a litany of poetic words to describe its power and threat – “The beastie braks bones: crashin’, smashin, lashin.”

Huge screens on stage carry black and white static images of the ocean which only move when a life is lost to the sea.

The giant images reinforce one character’sdescription of the rogue waves or “lumps of water” that can stand 30 metres high. And Pippa Murphy’s award-nominated sound production keeps the voice of the sea with the audience throughout.

Music – particularly the fiddle of Thoren Ferguson – and big choreographed set pieces, such as when Jock’s body is twisted and claimed by the cast’s sea of bodies, counterpoint the fast-moving dialogue.

Lost At Sea is a very personal story to Morna Young, who dedicates the play to her fisherman father Donnie, lost in 1989.

But though criticism of the overfishing that took place in the past, the issues of fish quotas, licences and exploitation of fishermen to fund a greedy captain, or “slipper skipper” – almost overpack the narrative, the desire to look more widely, beyond the North East to Europe and the rest of the world and the future of the industry, is a noble one.

Lost At Sea is on tonight (Friday) and tomorrow (Saturday, May 18) from 7.30pm at Eden Court.

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