Theatre review: High Tide Festival, Halesworth

3.00

 

The Suffolk town of Halesworth might look idyllic but don’t be fooled, there’s darkness lurking behind the half-timbered facades. This year’s High Tide festival of new writing tackles everything from heroin addiction to Hillsborough, bullying to black actors in “blackface”. You couldn’t accuse it of being twee, although you might wish for a bit of light relief. Small-scale doesn’t have to equal issues-driven.

The stand-out show this year is Neighbors, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ daring, funny, occasionally gasp-inducing play about “post-racial” America, which premiered in New York in 2010 and which transfers to Southampton’s Nuffield Theatre next week. Steven Atkinson’s deft production takes place on a split stage. Upfront is the bland, beige suburban home of Richard, a black Classics lecturer and Jean, his white, stay-at-home wife who have recently moved into the area with their stroppy daughter, Melody. Across the stage is the home of their new neighbours, the Crows, decked out with a music-hall proscenium arch and footlights.

The Crows are a family of black minstrels with names like Topsy and Sambo who parade around in blackface make-up and grass skirts, hollering about fried chicken and Tyler Perry movies while rehearsing their new variety show, Coonapalooza, starring youngest son, Jim (yes, Jim Crow). While Jean and Melody befriend their new neighbours, Richard instantly sees them as a threat, forcing his family to address previously unspoken issues.

It is all pretty shocking, not least in the vaudeville interludes in which each Crow enacts a crude sexual routine with a watermelon, a banana or dangling genitalia. But when the shock wears off – and in today’s post-Book of Mormon world, that can be rather quickly – it is a fairly conventional exploration of race relations and identity in which Jacobs-Jenkins throws a heap of ideas at the wall to see which stick. Some, like a heavy-handed strand on Greek tragedy, don’t. Others, like Topsy’s medley of black cultural stereotypes, do – and exhilaratingly so. Either way, I can’t stop thinking about it.

There are lower-level shocks to be found in Smallholding. Chris Dunkley’s play starts promisingly, and intriguingly, enough with a young couple, Andy and Jen, moving into their new farm cottage with dreams of growing parsnips and garlic. This is “a new start, from the roots up” but Andy is behaving very strangely, making tea without the teabag and spending money on a non-existent tractor. And there’s a mysterious bucket in the middle of the living room floor. Once we learn that Andy is a recovering junkie, the tension flows out of the piece and the second half is a rather unremitting spiral down into grimness. Still, Patrick Sandford’s dynamic production captures something of the stifling nature of both small-town life and addiction. 

Elsewhere, teen dreams, or more accurately nightmares, are the theme. Moth is an unpindownable oddity by Declan Greene about two misfits, which transfers to London’s Bush Theatre later this month. When Sebastian, the school sci-fi geek, is betrayed by his one friend Claryssa, the school emo, and subjected to a vicious bullying, he sets out on a divine mission to save mankind. There’s a hint of Constellations to the ever-shifting narrative in which Stacey Gregg and Jordan Misfud play a whole cast of characters. Prasanna Puwanarajah directs in slick, filmic style, making exciting use of theatrical special effects, but the piece itself remains rather overwrought.

There are revivals, too, for two excellent monologues - Luke Barnes’ brilliant punch-to-the-guts Bottleneck, voiced by a young Liverpool fan, and Chewing Gum Dreams. The latter, written and performed by sparky motormouth Michaela Coel, is a by turns hilarious and disturbing romp through school, sex, first love and teen pregnancy set to a garage soundtrack. It felt like watching the birth of an exciting new talent – just what you’d hope to see at High Tide.

www.hightide.org.uk

Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Jenny Lee may have left, but Miranda Hart and the rest of the midwives deliver the goods

Arts and Entertainment
Legendary blues and rock singer Joe Cocker has died of lung cancer, his management team as confirmed. He was 70
music The singer has died aged 70
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams looks concerned as Arya Stark
tv
Arts and Entertainment
photography Incredible images show London's skyline from its highest points
Arts and Entertainment
'Silent Night' last topped Classic FM's favourite Christmas carol poll in 2002
classical
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all