TIME AND TIDE at London's Park90
Josh Barrow and Elliot Liburd as Nemo and Daz: photograph Gail Harland

On the Norfolk coast is the quintessentially English seaside town of Cromer, once home to writer James McDermott. Not a trendy night club society but more a traditional family holiday location where English 'caffs' sell English home produced fare on checked plastic tablecloths. Most famous for its pier, fishing industry and the Cromer crab, this town is quaint and charming but also struggling against the onslaught of coffee and supermarket chains which threaten the very existence and traditional livelihood of the locals. Do the residents stand back, accept and embrace the changes or do they resist them and fight back? Such is the setting of Time and Tide directed by Rob Ellis and starring Wendy Nottingham as May, Paul Easom as Ken, Elliot Liburd as Daz and Josh Barrow as Nemo. 

Coming from that area, McDermott has painted a picture of a town struggling to survive against the tidal onslaught. Frustrated that so many productions portray working class life and characters as stereotypes in over-exaggerated plots, he is intent on offering a reality of their mundanity, where nothing much happens and where routines and rituals are their norm. 

We are witness to the frustrations and fears of the characters as they go forward, facing not only the physical changes that are taking place around them but also coming to terms with the personal challenges that confront them in this brave, new world. Should they push forward or should they retreat and succumb?

May, lovingly portrayed by Wendy Nottingham, has spent most of her adult years caring for her mother. She has taken a new lease of life in her Norfolk home as owner of a small 'caff' depicted beautifully in the small space of Park 90 through the clever set design of Caitlin Abbott. Her caff may not have many customers, it may be potential prey to Pret a Manger, but it holds a special place in her heart. Living on her own this is her life. It is here that she can dream her Bette Davis dreams, where she can sing her songs, knowing that they will never materialise but secure in her fantasies. At the same time she recognises that this does not work for everyone and does not hold back from encouraging her protegee assistant, Nemo taking up a place in a drama school in the metropolis of 'that London' and becoming the next Judi Dench! 

Nemo's approaching departure is the catalyst that sets in motion the disclosures that have been so long hidden by the four characters. A major strand in this drama of 'changing times and spreading wings' is  the strong influence of his 'coming out' and his decision to move away and relocate. He lacks confidence that quiet Cromer will be quite as accepting of his sexuality and believes London will be more embracing. His friend and co-assistant Daz, who is struggling to accept his own sexuality, is devastated that Nemo is leaving. Add to the mix Ken, a frustrated local baker and delivery man, who is terrified of the changes that are speedily taking place in his beloved Cromer and May, who at last has the courage to 'come out' and we have the exhausting turmoil of this quartet who stand at their own crossroad, evaluating their lives and making decisions on their future.

This is a demanding play of its cast who shift through the various stages of development. At one moment they delight in dance and song, at another terrified of what is to come. Skillfully presenting these interconnecting themes, McDermott has depicted a complexity against which so many struggle as change forces itself upon them.

Moving at a slow pace, the portrayal is effective. Not only are we invested in the characters but also in the setting of the dying caff where the smells of cooking bacon and brewing coffee permeate the intimate space of Park 90. Voyeurs to their lives, it seems that 'nothing happens, yet everything happens'. With sterling performances by these four actors, the shared secrets are authentically presented and this cast was certainly deserving of the standing ovation received at the close of the piece.

Leaving the theatre, I felt the more determined to shun the coffee chains and seek out the independents for my next espresso.

Listings

Park Theatre, Clifton Terrace, Finsbury Park, N4 3JP
Dates: 5-29 February 2020
Age Guidance: 14+
Performances: Mon-Sat evenings 7.45 pm. Matinees Thurs and Sat 3.15 pm.
Prices: £18, concessions £16.50. 
Booking: 
www.parktheatre.co.uk / 020 7870 6876 (10% telephone booking fee)

Running time: 1 hr 45 mins (incl 15 min interval)