IN RANSOME’S WAKE, A NORTH SEA TALE OF TOUGHER DAYS
Eastern Angles having a cleaner mind than BBC Films, Titty gets to keeps her name in this faithful, ingenious, charming and oddly moving re-telling of Arthur Ransome’s best sailing book. Best, because while the others are fine chronicles of childlike playfulness and imagination this one places the four siblings – John, Susan, Titty and Roger – in genuine and unforeseen danger, at ages presumed to be from 14 down to about 9. There is a seriousness about it; and because of that what Ransome calls, as John steers alone “a serious kind of joy”.
Crewing overnight on the Orwell and Stour for young Jim on his little yacht Goblin, they are briefly left alone but when an accident stops the skipper returning, the anchor drags in the rising tide and is lost, and the ebb sweeps them out to sea. Decisions, based on Lakeland dinghy experience and conversations with a naval father, have to be made. The safest course, much debated between the alarmed elder siblings, is to stay out at sea, sailing a safe course downwind. They reach Holland. Ransome’s detail and seafaring probabilities in are impeccable: the only dissent came from the young woman alongside me in the interval with an indignant “Who would leave children alone on a boat?!”. I explained that was the 30’s, and that her generation raised in cottonwool were never briskly told like the book’s characters “Better drowned than duffers, if not duffers won’t drown”.
Whether you know the book or not this reprise of the Angles’ acclaimed version under Ivan Cutting is a delight: an ingenious compact set by Rosie Alabaster evokes the little boat perfectly, above and below decks, with clear sightlines both sides. It is framed as a re-telling by the romantic among them, Titty: the four cast briefly stand in for the parents, JIm and the Dutch pilot when necessary, Rosalind Steele’s Susan is very fine as the naval Dad at times, and Joel Sams’ John does a nice, boyish caricature of Mother. Matilda Howe is touchingly dreamy as Titty, and Christopher Buckley on his first professional job is a name to watch in future: he stands in as the rustic skipper Jim Brading but mainly is hilarious as Roger (well, he gets the one-liners a small brother always deploys at the wrong moment) . All four as children carry the wavering emotions perfectly – fun, fear, quarrels, elations, sudden achieving of near-adulthood, and scratchy family solidity.
But to be honest, what brought tears to my eyes at times was the way that the story, and the fidelity of the play, reflect the realities of small-boat sailing familiar to those of us with a life of it astern of us (and I hope a bit more to come).
All the truths are there: the pleasure in merely coiling a rope and the legacy of ingenuity in rigging and canvas and the simple subtle physics of the seaman’s art. But there is also the collapse of morale in seasickness, the unwelcome necessary decisions, and the fear which abates when you actually do something for the ship. Here too are the shrill moments and the arguments , and the healing acceptance of comradeship and of loyalty and gratefulness to the boat herself.
It’s all there: the changing sea you travel through with rope and cloth and hope, trying to do the right thing.
booking via http://tinyurl.com/h3pfw7g easternangles.co.uk Touring to 9 July