For this year’s Christmas show, the Eastern Angles have teamed up with Shanty Theatre from the south west for a caper inspired by a fishing dispute of 1896 – it sounds unlikely, I grant you, but writer Harry Long and director Tim Bell manage to turn this niche historical event into a generally entertaining two hours of theatre.
There’s plenty of silliness and some elements that falter, but overall the committed cast keep up the pace well. Five actors multi-role with aplomb, with character shifts marked by clear changes in accent and demeanour, not just the names embroidered helpfully on the costumes. As our hapless hero Norman – who unwittingly becomes the leader for both sides in the impending riots – Harry Long plays the fool with surprising sweetness and is engaging even throughout some of the more bizarre plot turns. He is well supported by Louise Callaghan (probably the strongest character actor of the piece) who portrays the roles of Mags the Wesleyan, Lorraine the tourist information worker, Matthews the policeman and Rash the fisherman with verve and flair. Her strong singing voice is an added delight, bringing to life Stu McLoughlin’s musical numbers.
The songs are rather hit and miss: those that the move the plot along or play with theatrical convention are cleverly formed. However, the repeated ‘boyband’ numbers miss the mark, not funny enough to sustain their repetition throughout the show, and out of place in the wit and traditional farce of the rest of the production. Daniel Copeland’s performance suffers from similar problems – perhaps it’s simply not my taste in humour, but his moments of off-the-wall physical comedy jar and come across as awkward.
That said, the laughs keep coming in a fairly steady stream, and the energy bubbles along nicely. Christian Edwards revels in playing the baddie as the camp and nasty Brassy Balls, dead set on destroying nice old Norman, and manages a piece of audience interaction deftly. Yet there’s also room for romance, with an endearing relationship developing between Norman and Kerra (Mabel Clements).
On the whole there’s a feeling that the creative team have thrown too much into the show, as the strong performances and comic moments are swamped by some of the more confused scenes – multiple appearances by a Police tribute band is an example of an idea dragged out beyond its potential. The script is peppered with jokes tailored to a local crowd, meaning its appeal to a wider audience may be limited; however, for these dedicated supporters of regional theatre (it’s great to see this local theatre nearly full on a weekday matinee) this is a warm-hearted, playful jaunt that provides an unusual alternative to a panto this festive season.
Holy Mackerel! is playing at the Sir John Mills Theatre in Ipswich until 9 January, before touring to Woodbridge and Peterborough. For more information and tickets, see the Eastern Angles website. Photo by Mike Kwasniak.