Monday, 17 December 2018

Clifftop drama draws us into the concerns of a gentler era

READING Rep, based in the drama studio at Reading College in Kings Road, could be considered

READING Rep, based in the drama studio at Reading College in Kings Road, could be considered a very well-kept secret among local theatre buffs,

But if you were lucky enough to search out their latest production, a co-production with Up in Arms and Orange Tree Theatre Richmond of Robert Holman’s award-winning German Skerries, you would certainly not have been disappointed.

Holman’s 1977 play is set in Teeside and gives a palpable sense of time and place very different from present-day experience. Back then industry abounded, and British Steel was a major employer in the area, but we encounter our protagonists on a grassy clifftop that is a perfect spot for birdwatchers.

The young and newly-married Jack (George Evans) casually meets Martin (Howard Ward), a primary school teacher who has broken up for the summer holidays that day, and is looking forward to his annual family holiday in Salcombe.

Jack is fired by ambition and is waiting to hear if he has been accepted on a course that will help him further his career, while Martin is weighed down and realistic about his responsibilities.

As the plot unfolds we see him trying to both encourage the young man but also prepare him for possible disappointment and disillusion.

What they have in common is the love of bird life and an interest in the German Skerries — so called because a German plane crashed on those rocks in the war and are now the location of an outfall pipe from the steelworks which is putting the birdlife in danger.

Director Alice Hamilton has perfectly captured the more unhurried pace of those times and the comparative simplicity of the characters’ day-to-day existence, well complemented by a simple yet very effective set by James Perkins and evocative sound and lighting by George Dennis and Simon Gethin Thomas.

The performances by a very able cast were suitably controlled and gentle. Katie Moore as Jack’s understanding and supportive wife Carol was a delight, and brought an impressive blend of innocence and sensuality to the role.

Holman also gives us drama and tragedy in the form of an unfortunate accident at the pipeline when a pilot working on the pipe for British Steel (Henry Everett) is fatally burnt, but the main themes of the play draw us back with unashamed nostalgia to a gentler era that has surely now gone for ever.

For details of forthcoming productions at Reading Rep, visit

Review: Mary Scriven

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