Royal National Theatre (Cottesloe), London SE1
Opened 8 November, 2001

**** Powerful portrait of disaster-stricken community

Herman Heijermans' 1900 play about a Dutch fishing tragedy has been transposed by adaptor Lee Hall to Whitby in Yorkshire.

Much of Hall's writing and adaptation so far has tended to veer either towards unashamed sentimentality or deliberately crude comedy. This play and this production, however, marshal his strengths into an unambiguously successful area. The story has a direct power: the pressures and risks of a blunt working community, and the demand for justice when a boat is lost in suspicious circumstances. Both strains of Hall's writing taste are present, but neither is taken to excess.

Moreover, Bill Bryden is probably the country's foremost director of such community-centred dramas, including The Mysteries, Lark Rise To Candleford and The Ship. Bryden's regular musical associate John Tams has a breadth and sensitivity of knowledge of folk musics which place his songs and scores firmly at the heart of productions, and this is no exception. An excellent central performance by Frances de la Tour as a woman who loses the last two men in her family to the sea is complemented by Tom Georgeson as the owner who sent out a boat when he knew its hull to be rotten and tries to evade the agony of recrimination, not least from himself.

Written for

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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