“...everyone knows those classical Greeks were benders”
For various reasons I know Great Yarmouth quite well. It’s a town not far from the Norfolk Broads and where Sue Healy has set her play ‘Imaginationship’. Great Yarmouth is a ‘complicated’ place.
Daniel Defoe mentions it favourably in his journals: “... for wealth, trade and advantage of situation it is infinitely superior to Norwich.” It was the centre of the Herring industry in East Anglia. It became a very popular Victorian watering hole. The waning fortunes of the Fishing Industry signalled the enormous decline of what was once an extremely pleasant and hospitable town. Today ‘Yarmouth’-as the locals like to call it- is both surreal and melancholic.
In 2016 the town voted overwhelmingly to leave the EU. It has large areas of social and economic deprivation. It has a significant Eastern European migrant population, who, on the whole, have not been integrated that well. Yet in the summer months it still attracts huge numbers of tourists to its Golden sandy beaches and elegant piers. (and yes it still has Donkey rides!) Sue Healy reflects and examines this history in her wonderful play ‘Imaginationship’.
Healy constructs her piece quite brilliantly. The Classical unities of action, time and place are observed with relish. She’s astute enough to remind us of what she’s doing with constant Greek allusions in her text. She even gives us a ‘Sophoclean’ Chorus who both top and tail her play. (sharp and acute performances from John Sackville and Atilla Akinci.)
Ginnie Atkins (played with sensuous and brazen gusto by Jilly Bond) has a crush on Brenda, her childhood friend. Brenda doesn’t reciprocate. In fact Brenda’s sexual urges are of a much more ‘hetro’ persuasion. Patience Tomlinson invests Brenda with enormous dignity. The character maybe ‘amoral’ but Tomlinson makes us completely aware of ‘where she’s coming from’.
Her daughter Melody, played by Joanna Bending, in what is the stand-out performance of the evening, has fallen for Tony her evening class classics tutor. (a deft, strong and morally ambiguous turn from Rupert Wickham.) What follows is a story of addiction, in all its forms, obsession and the complicated nature of relationships.
Healy’s story is a challenging one. Yet she leavens it with astonishing amounts of humour. Her love of language zings out at us. She peppers her text with some marvellously bad jokes which sometimes are so excruciating they make you laugh out loud.
I would have liked the direction of Tricia Thorns to have had more pace. I acknowledge that she was probably trying to reflect the more leisurely pace of East Anglian life. And her scene changes, I felt, were extremely clumsy. Too often there was nothing happening on stage, (something that was drummed into me, from a very early age, should never happen).
Mention should be made of the brilliance of Eugene Sully’s sound design. So often sound is forgotten or not commented upon. Here it enhances and reflects on the action quite brilliantly.
‘Imaginationship’ is a play with much food for thought. And, without a doubt, is a tremendous piece of work. Yet I came away from the evening tinged with an unutterable sadness. Probably a mixture of intimations of mortality and the seeming decline of that most beautiful of towns, Great Yarmouth.
Finborough Theatre, 118 Finborough Road, London SW10 9ED
0844 847 1652
Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays, 7, 8, 9, 14, 15, 16, 21, 22, 23 January 2018
Sunday and Monday evenings at 7.30pm. Tuesday matinees at 2.00pm.
Tickets £18, £16 concessions. (Group Bookings – 1 free ticket for every 10 tickets booked.)
Performance Length: Approximately 90 minutes with no interval.
Reviewer Richard Braine is actor, director and playwright.
As an Actor he has worked extensively throughout the country including Chichester Festival Theatre, Manchester Royal Exchange, Birmingham Rep, and Stephen Joseph Theatre in Yorkshire. His Television and Film credits include: “Calendar Girls”, “Pride, Prejudice and Zombies”, “Finding Neverland”, “Bridget Jones”, “Suspicions of Mr Whicher”, “Mr Selfridge” and many years ago Gussie Fink-Nottle in “Jeeves and Wooster”. He has also filmed over 150 Commercials all over the world.
He has directed the European premiere of Sternheim/Martin “The Underpants” at The Old Red Lion Theatre and written three plays: “Being There with Sellers”, “Bedding Clay Jones” and “Sexing Alan Titchmarsh”.