In Lita Doolan’s new play The Wyre Lady of Fleetwood, the Wyre Lady refers to a real-life pleasure boat in the seaside fishing port of Fleetwood, just down the promenade from the holiday resort of Blackpool.
The Lady dates back to 1938 and has been in her present place since 1971, albeit hit by an arson attack in 2020 and restored for relaunch early this year. She is a constant marker of her people.
The play is set in the long shadow of the 1980 cod fishing crisis which struck Fleetwood after the loss of Icelandic supply chains: if this sounds at all familiar in our post-Brexit world, then this makes Doolan’s show all the more relevant, even in passing.
However, this is a piece about family, primarily, set in a North which is slowly changing, declining and redefining itself. There is loss, there is the return of one who has been away, there are memories which remain sharp.
The cast – Julie Broadbent, Ian McShee, Bhasker Patel, Jo Phillips-Lane, Mabel Pritchard – are all convincing in their depiction of inhabitants of the land ruled by the sea. These are characters we can recognise easily, and they gain our interest and empathy.
The story is less convincing as a whole, sadly, perhaps because it assumes a certain amount of local knowledge which not every audience member will have, and sometimes lacks cohension between the different viewpoints (there are no scenes which are not performed solo).
There is, of course, a lot of love for the local lore and the wildness of nature, as well as memory of families. The play opens with the recollection of a funeral of a patriarch, but goes deeper into the recognition of the changing face of Fleetwood’s community.
Fringe rating: ***
The Wyre Lady of Fleetwood is a premiere piece which deserves a wider platform in the future as it develops from its current half-hour running time – you can see it online throughout the Brighton Fringe. Book your free ticket here.