The world premiere of Tom Wells’s new play, Big Big Sky, is currently running at Hampstead Theatre’s Downstairs space, and is set in the coastal village of Kilnsea where Wells once worked in a cafe.
This is a place on the edge of the world, thirty miles from the nearest city (Hull) or hospital, A place where people come to retire, like Neil the accountant from Leeds (an unseen character), or to catch a glimpse of the birdlife which stops off during their migration seasons.
Angie (a lovely performance from Jennifer Daley) runs the cafe from Spring to Autumn, and this is the one place the play’s action takes place. It is clean and comfortable, with tables you know may be rickety, and with sauce bottles on the counter. Only one sort of ‘coffee’ is for sale, but vegan brownies capture the wellness craze alongside the hearty pasty and beans on toast which pull in the walkers.
Helping her out is aspiring singer Lauren (talented recent graduate Jessica Jolleys), twenty years old, pretty, sardonic, carrying along her private bubble of grief since the death of her mother. Dad Dennis (Matt Sutton, who slowly uncoils as the play progresses) is the local who resents change and incomers, yet feels he doesn’t belong himself. His routine is stopping by for the day’s free leftovers, but he isn’t one for introspective conversation.
Wells captures the people of this village perfectly; they are surely fully formed characters straight from the pen and – as happens rarely in stage plays – we care what happens to them after the final bows. Bob Bailey’s set has the clutter of community – an information board, plates which need clearing – and a sense of the seaside with models of birds decorating the ceiling alongside the fan and lights.
When Ed (Sam Newton, sweet and nervy), a lad from Dudley who is a bit dorky but committed to conservation, heads into the cafe, he seems at first just a daft addiction to the landscape, but it quickly becomes clear that he will have an effect on all three of the locals.
There are moments of comedy in this feel-good show – a line-dancing rehearsal is a lot of fun – and some moments where you might catch your breath as plot points and secrets are revealed. An albatross is an important, yet elusive, catalyst for two characters to connect.
Not a lot happens, yet everything happens, as Big Big Sky‘s premise is about ordinary people living ordinary lives. Under Tessa Walker’s direction – she has collaborated with Wells before – the drama is handled with dignity, clarity, and charm.
You can catch this show until 11 September – book here. It runs 95 minutes in a socially distanced auditorium, so if you are still nervous about coming back to the theatre, it might be a production to try.
Image credits: Robert Day.
LouReviews received a complimentary ticket to review Big Big Sky.