Grace and the Sea is a unique production in many ways. It was written especially for community theatre company MATE by academic and playwright Rob Brannen, after he saw their 2011 version of his ensemble piece The Yarn. The new show was developed with the actors, and the characters based on them individually.
The Yarn – the tale of the residents of a village – was an ideal fit for the company, comprised of performers of all ages from students to pensioners, and impressively done; so Grace and the Sea took a similar tack, creating characters at all stages of life to paint a vivid picture of a community, their stories and their bonds.
Set on Crosby beach, the play used Antony Gormley’s Another Place statues as inspiration for the tale – their permanence, their silence and their meaning to the local people who walk among them every day and hold them in affection. A strong sight gag at the beginning set up an enjoyable introductory sequence as the ‘beach’ filled up with people – the dog walkers, the fitness fanatics, the fishermen, the family on a picnic – the stuff of life.
With real life tales of the area and memories of the actors all thrown into the pot, the result was a script as funny as it was touching, full of recognisable characters. Among them young couple Lee and Shelly, taking their elderly neighbour Dot for a day out; Andy, the overzealous coastguard; fourth wall-breaking deadpan observer Fisherman Frank (a big audience favourite); the childless couple throwing themselves into hobbies to take their mind off things left unsaid; and the group of friends and neighbours out for a picnic, a mix of restless young people, comedy grandparents, and a divorced dad and the widowed single mum who wonder if they should be more than just friends.
A 90 minute one act show, it is well-structured and well-paced, and performed by an extremely likeable cast – a real strength of the company, as they have proved before. Full of drama, laughs, sweetness and affection, Grace and the Sea is an enjoyable tale, well told.