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Robert Holman must be the least well known prolific playwright of the last forty years. He’s written twenty-four plays, half of which were first produced by august companies and theatres like the RSC, the Royal Court and the Bush, where this 1977 play, his seventh, was first seen. He’s often considered the playwrights playwright. After this, I’ve decided to call him the Guisborough Chekov.

You learn what the title means early on. We’re on that bleak industrial Teeside coastline lined with steel and chemical plants, ships offshore waiting to offload their cargo. Thirty-nine years on, of course, the steelworks is closed and the Wilton petrochemical plant that once employed tens of thousands has been split up and sold off to multiple companies, employing a lot less people. In the middle of this is a birdwatching spot where 59-year-old Martin and twenty-something Jack meet looking for cormorants and oyster catchers.

We learn about Jack’s thwarted ambition (he works at the Wilton chemical plant), where Martin goes for his holidays and about an environmental issue about to threaten the habitat of their beloved birds. We meet Jack’s wife Carol and Martin’s son’s friend Michael. There’s a tragedy offstage. It’s gentle, wistful stuff. I admired the writing. I didn’t quite believe in Jack, but the other characters are well drawn. Director Alice Hamilton has great affinity with plays like this, as she showed with Barney Norris’ The Visitors and Eventide. I liked James Perkins’ clever design. The performances are good. I was under-stimulated and a bit bored, though. For me, it didn’t really go anywhere. It was all a bit dull and unengaging. The Guisborough Chekov.

 

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