The Offing – Review – Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough
By Charlotte Oliver, October 2021
‘The offing’ is a term that describes the place on the horizon where the sea and sky merge, and this theme of a connection between two very different entities runs throughout this play of Benjamin Myers’ best-selling 2019 novel.
Adapted for the stage by Janice Okoh (with additional material by director Paul Robinson), it is about Robert, a 16 year-old boy from Durham, who meets Dulcie, a woman almost his opposite in every way. He is working class and destined for life as a coal miner, like generations of men in his family before him. She, on the other hand, is upper class and has led a bohemian and educated life travelling the world before fate brought the two of them together in a cottage in Robin Hood’s Bay, a tiny fishing village on the Yorkshire Coast. As their stories emerge and the action unfolds, the two of them form a deep bond that transcends their differences and leaves each enriched by the other, a lesson as relevant now as it was in the 1940s when the play is set.
“Full of poetry”
The play opens with Robert as an old man in his fishing cottage looking back upon his life, and it appears as dust covers are stripped off the furniture that years are stripped from him and he becomes a young man once more at the start of his adventure, unworldly, quiet and inexperienced. Despite the weight of the play’s themes – war, love, loss, sexuality, repression, class and more – the dialogue is predominantly light-hearted and as full of poetry as Dulcie’s former lover, Romy, whose death left many questions unanswered.
The cast is brilliant. James Gladdon is utterly convincing as the likeable quiet young man learning that there are choices he can make about his life. Ingvild Lakou is a captivating, ethereal presence as Romy, and Kate Hamer gives a superb performance as Dulcie in this gift of a female role, oscillating between no-nonsense practicality and an infectious delight in living life to the full.
“Wonderful theatrical touches”
Very much care has been taken with this every aspect of this delightful, understated production, and there are some wonderful theatrical touches. The potentially thorny issue of showing when somebody is alive or a ghost, for example, is cleverly achieved through subtle lighting. The coastal location is communicated exactly through unobtrusive sound design and a set that perfectly emulates salt-weathered wood. Dulcie’s dog, Butler, is created through mime and sound, and is a brilliant device for delineating the action between past and present. A particularly lovely moment is when Dulcie quotes lines of poetry but does so with the intonation of somebody who really has been part of the poetry world. Even the scene changes have been carefully considered; they are unrushed and done by the actors in character, moving the action on as smoothly as a summer sea.
The play is an engrossing journey to a place of heart-warming connection. It is full of life and full of love. I can think of very few better ways to spend an evening.
images: Tony Bartholomew