Beacons, Park Theatre, review: ‘Gentle humour akin to Last of the Summer Wine’

Paul Kemp and Emily Burnett - Beacons - (c) Scott Rylander (2)

Paul Kemp and Emily Burnett - Beacons - (c) Scott Rylander (2) - Credit: Archant

We are in Eastbourne, at Julie’s Ices Kiosk.

A modest affair, close to the edge of Beachy Head: room for two inside with jolly Disney characters attacking oversized lollies painted on the outside. The eponymous Julie (played with an air of resignation and minted jollity by Tessa Peake-Jones) is finding it hard making a living – lack of council investment, cut-throat local competition and coastal erosion.

Yes, her business could go down at any minute.

We meet the dour, middle-aged Bernard.

A Sheffield man, he is played with bluster by Paul Kemp but hides a vulnerability and hollowness. Julie is knitting him a birthday jumper.

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The third member of this happy band is Skye: young, fresh faced, inquisitive, cheeky. She seems to have been taken under Julie’s wing and they have a warm, mutually supportive relationship. But, with all three we feel there is a back story, a connection that isn’t quite right: why is Skye hanging around with these two?

I’m not going to tell you how things resolve, but Beachy Head is notorious for suicides and Julie is part of a suicide watch patrol.

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Older readers will remember the first series of Last of the Summer Wine, before it degenerated into Yorkshire slapstick.

It was lyrical, soft, observational and conversational humour in search of quiet chuckles, not thigh slapping ribaldry. Tabitha Mortiboy’s script achieves much the same effect: gentle humour and warmth carries the underlying sense of suspected failure.

Attic Theatre Company produced Beacons as a short play then worked with Mortiboy to develop it into a full length play.

At 90 minutes, you still feel it needed more time to explore the characters; there were too many unanswered background questions.

But Beacons witnesses the start of two fine careers.

Mortiboy is only just out of college and has produced a script of exceptional maturity and insight. And Emily Burnett, 18, has had no formal training and delivers a brilliant, mature and knowing performance as Skye.

Two to watch.

Rating: 3/5 stars.

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