“Idon’t think I ever want to get old,” begins 10-year-old Ruth Summers. As a mantra that no doubt strikes a chord with thespians and theatre practitioners alike, alongside the childish charm of Emma Baskeyfield, this statement grows to define the very purpose of Ebb Tide – a new piece of writing, an experiment, a reimagining of life just when it is threatening to slip away.
Behind Ebb Tide is Monobrow Productions, a newly formed independent theatre company founded by Exeter graduate and play director Josh Erlick. Tracing the separation of the Summers sisters, Tom Milton’s play takes a two-track approach by following the realities of eldest sister Lucy and the dreams of young Ruth. In the contained space of the Barnfield Theatre’s Clifford Room we see the realities of adulthood consistently jarring against the dreams of childhood. Ebb Tide explores the inconsistencies of existence, of the transient trajectories of life choices: of detachments, disappointments and disillusionment.
Lucy Summers is lost. Having moved away from a claustrophobic home-town, she has been forced to give up on her artistic ideas and settle for pottering around with a politician. Her boyfriend Tim, hilariously played by Daniel Heathcote, is the typical Oxford PPE grad – aspirational and self-absorbed. When Lucy returns to the life she was so desperate to escape, her old friend Cook – endearingly acted by William Underwood – is able to remind her of her own truth, of the honest life she abandoned in pursuit of something more. Alice Woodhouse played Lucy’s frustrations beautifully throughout, managing to capture both an intense vulnerability and a suppressed naughtiness. Her chemistry with Underwood was palpable yet insecure enough to ensure that surprises consistently hit.
Much of the play’s hilarity however was forged through Mrs Summers, mother of Lucy and Ruth, compulsive liar and sycophantic hypochondriac. Elizabeth Ryan played her self-indulgent narcissism brilliantly, even having to stifle her own laughter during the ensemble scene. This very scene was the play’s comedic zenith; dialogue was well paced and entertaining as Lucy’s long-lost lover and boring boyfriend finally came into contact. The audience gawped and guffawed as jibes, insults and indeed, punches were thrown.
Even with these moments of excellence, Ebb Tide felt very much like a work in progress: many scenes needed tightening up, others needed cutting down. The final scene for instance was far too long and (fittingly perhaps) the play seemed to ebb away, failing to capitalise on the audience engagement garnered scenes before. What’s more, many plot points felt undeveloped as characters languished in lengthy dialogue – the spectral Mr Monty, rather than being enjoyably enigmatic, merely felt unexplained and the love triangle, whilst effectively engendering hilarity, seemed unresolved.
Despite being rough around the edges, Ebb Tide succeeded in the most crucial of ways – it was brilliantly thought-provoking. How and with whom do we choose to spend our time? Is that time something we’re organically cherishing or superficially wasting? Ebb Tide probed at the big questions whilst being grounded firmly in reality. With comedy to boot, it provided nothing other than an immensely enjoyable evening.