Director Jamie Hibbert knew what she was doing when choosing this demanding and intense play for her Year 12 Drama students. For it to succeed the six cast members all needed to be competent actors, able to perform in a focussed and often intense way. The play demands a range of dramatic skills, and these actors readily met the challenges. Although originally devised for an all male cast, Hibbert’s adaptation to accommodate her students was flawless.
Set mostly on board an old trawler, the Violet, owned by a failing company, the play takes its crew, and thus the audience, out to sea off the Devonshire coast and into a Force 11 storm. The experiences of the crew are occasionally tender, but often fractured and intense, as the combined pressures build to the frightening climax. All characters are eventually forced to confront their fears and weaknesses. Bringing believability to characters in extremis is hard to do, and quite rare. This cast managed it, without exception.
Individually they were also very strong. They sustained their accents and credibility in what was a demanding script, and one which would have bettered many experienced actors. Notably, too, all characters were of equal importance.
Ella Wood as the generally irrepressible Reese provided intolerance as well as humour early on, yet was also convincing in the more intensely serious moments. She used her voice, precise timing and subtle facial expression to great effect, especially when silently reacting to others’ emotions. Oscar Bridges, as the ‘old salt’ Alan, was impressive in his physicality and intensity, especially when at odds with other individual characters, such as in the confrontation with Charlie who provoked him about his father’s actions in an earlier trawler disaster. Bridges’ monologue describing a calamity at sea was most affecting.
Jaime Johnston was suitably dominant as Woods, the skipper. Her character’s manipulative nature in handling the crew, especially in her later cold exploitation of Jane’s weakness, developed effectively in the course of the action. She was also nastily overbearing and devious when trying to get Kirk to reveal the movements of a rival trawler. Talia Herbst, as Jane, was convincingly vulnerable and empathetic. She showed her dramatic depth when, in that stand-off with Woods, she was defeated and in tears, at the very time she was trying to be her most assertive.
Bella Haarsma impressed as the youngest crew member, Charlie. She was spitefully aggressive when challenging Alan, yet emotionally vulnerable on other occasions, particularly when under duress. Caity Palm handled the difficulty of playing the Polish immigrant worker, Kirk, with calmness and aplomb. She was careful not to over-act in establishing her character when she first appeared on the Brixham dock. That was noteworthy, too, when she was derided by Reese for undercutting the local crew’s pay. She brought a sincerity and authenticity to the role which therefore made it readily believable that she gradually turned around most of the crew’s attitudes to her.
The action was sensitively enhanced by well choreographed scene changes, often accompanied by synchronised movements, and acapella sea shanties sung in harmony by the cast. The set was simple, solid and convincing and well used by the cast. The mood and action of the whole, but in particular the stormy climax, were developed by effective miming along with impressive sound and lighting effects.
This was a compelling performance by Pulteney Grammar of a demanding play. It tested the dramatic range of the cast and they came up trumps. I have taught Year 12 Drama and have directed Year 12 Drama productions and I was in awe of the concentration, the characterisation and the ensemble skills of this cast.