I Caught Crabs in Walberswick
Bush Theatre Autumn 2008
Joel Horwood's short play covers familiar territory, but with such imagination and theatrical vitality that it makes it seem fresh.
At its core it is the oft-told tale of the moment the adolescent realises that he and his best mate are going to go their separate ways in life - almost an obligatory first play or novel, though this is not Horwood's first.
Add in, as is almost standard for the genre, the moment of sudden understanding and sympathy for hitherto-disdained parents and the discovery of just how complicated the sexual world is going to be, and in less sensitive and skilled hands you could have just one cliché after another.
But Horwood - significantly assisted by director Lucy Kerbel and a cast who radiate freshness and a love of the material - reminds us that clichés begin as truths, and only have to be restated with imagination and commitment to regain their originality.
Horwood's heroes are two local lads in the upmarket seaside resort of Walberswick, encountered on the night before their school-leaving exams.
A meeting with a posh and sexy girl from the summer community lures them away from studying for a night of modest rebellion and debauchery that shakes them just enough to generate life-changing realisations, confessions and decisions.
Key among them is the discovery that, in comparison to the girl's gradually revealed serious mental and emotional imbalance, the boys are actually happier and more normal than most teenagers like to believe they are, and more capable of choosing their futures.
Along the way we are allowed glimpses of the three sets of parents, at first as the clueless natural enemies they appear to their children, but then with the growing sympathy of the realisation they are just flawed humans doing their best.
Lucy Kerbel's production, first seen in Edinburgh in August and on tour since, tells this tale with infectious high energy and open affection for all the characters.
Horwood's script calls for an actor and actress to serve as narrators and also play all the parents and other adults, and much of the play's vitality comes from the genial we've-got-a-great-story-to-tell tone that Andrew Barron and Rosie Thomson bring to the narrators and much of its wisdom from their quickly-sketched insights into the variously unhappy parents.
Gemma Soul is dangerous teenage sexuality personified, and Harry Hepple and Aaron Foy nicely individualise the lads while still capturing and conveying the universality of their coming-of-age adventure.
Our review of the show in Edinburgh, August 2008:
Joel Horwood's portrait of small lives in small crises is the best Jon Godber play not by Jon Godber that I've ever seen. Like the master, Horwood puts a handful of characters in what should be a light and harmless setting and then lets the fault lines in their lives begin to show. Here it's two teenage boys in the titular resort town who are picked up by a posh girl and led into a night of self-discovery for all of them. It may come as little surprise that the girl turns out to be more screwed up than either of the lads, or that all three sets of parents have dysfunctions of their own. But what is a pleasant revelation is that the boys come to understand that they themselves are actually in pretty good shape, though their friendship may not be. Lucy Kerbel directs Horwood's fluid script with high energy that does not interfere with its sensitivity. Andrew Barron and Rosie Thomson play all the adults and further double as narrators, while Aaron Foy, Harry Hepple and Gemma Soul surmount stereotypes to make the teens recognisable and sympathetic. Gerald Berkowitz
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I Caught Crabs in Walberswick - Bush Theatre 2008