There’s much to like about Henry Darke’s postcard from contemporary Cornwall, his first full-length play, but it sits awkwardly in a baggy production.
Focusing on Huck, squatting in someone’s holiday home in secluded cove Booby’s Bay, the play takes a huge social problem - these homes are left unoccupied for 10 months of the year while locals struggle to find any kind of roof - but offers a simplistic solution and dilutes the theme with extraneous, contrived high drama.
So there's a minuscule subplot about a competitive surfer who dopes up, a pregnant girlfriend…while it's clear how they're meant to feed into the play, and create a panorama of how communities like this Cornish one are crumbling, they feel underdeveloped.
Although Huck is an alcoholic, Oliver Bennett plays him caffeinated rather than soused. There's no restraint here, no subtlety. It's all mania. Partly that's the performance, but direction plays a part too: there's very little imagination to Chris White’s staging besides scene transitions that combine Cornish shanties with meditative mantras and screeching birdsong. Otherwise it's a very literal production, burdened with props and set that distract more than they complement or enhance.
So, in one scene, Huck guts and fries an actual mackerel on an actual electric hob. How are we supposed to focus on anything else when Bennett has to keep fiddling with the heat to make sure the fish cooks in time for the scene to end?
Esther Coles as Huck’s mum, a cleaner with a sideline in sub-letting holiday homes to squatters, gives a brilliantly no-nonsense performance and she’s the strongest thing here, along with an undercurrent that looks at the longevity of grief.
But as promising as the play starts, with its primal, spray-flecked evocation of the Cornish coast, it slackens and loses its way. Characters lose their subtlety. The bumbling journalist from that there London is particularly ill-formed. Overwritten plot and underwritten characters, basically, mismatched with its production like an ill-fitting shoe.