Reviewed by Donald Madgwick for The Croydon Advertiser
Theatre Workshop Coulsdon last week set out to celebrate the maritime life in “Seafarer,” an entertainment devised and directed by Richard Lloyd.
Centred on the Admiral Nelson Inn, with Tim Young as mine host Davy Saltmarsh, it told the naval story of these islands in song and story. A company of 16 appeared variously as officers, seamen, press-gangers, sweethearts, port doxies and hangers-on, as we ourselves hung on to the rigging and sailed to distant parts.
The format of the show worked well, and I’m sure we all learned a lot, though some of the bookish prose “(faster, cheaper and infintely more reliable for the transporation of cargo)” belonged more to hard covers than the open stage.
The show painted a grim but broadly accurate picture of life in the Royal Navy when mariners were on board in overcrowded conditions for months at a time on a diet of mouldy biscuits, rotten pork and stale water, and the most nourishing part was the maggots.
But the reference to shanties as part of the tradition was wrong. Shanties belong to the merchant fleet, and have never been permitted in the Royal Navy.
We saw the pressing of Davy’s father Jamie, who served on the Bellerophon, no less, that same “Billy Ruffian” on which the great Emperor was transported to St Helena. A pity no mention was made of its great claim to fame. And we learned of the precarious security, the desertions, and the delicate art of the shanghai.
The songs were jolly and bright, and accompanied by an instrumental trio of Wendy Cole (fiddle), Simeon Dawes (guitar and mandolin) and Mark Taylor (accordion and keyboard). Well-chosen too, though I would much like to have had included that finest tribute of all to the British tar, Haydn’s Sailor’s Song.
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