Friday, 23 March 2018

The Riot - It's a riot, don't miss it!

Don't tell them there Newlyn boys but last night, Penzance's Acorn Theatre played host to Cornwall Youth Theatre's lively adaptation of Nick Darke's The Riot. The show was followed by a fascinating insight into the work of Nick Darke from his wife, Jane. Sadly Nick, actor, writer and fisherman died at the age of 56 having written 27 plays, including The Riot in 28 years.

Noisy, brash, fervent even at times, the play crashes into the audience like a heavy swell pounding a beach. Not only does the plot cover the story of the rioting fishermen in great detail - so bad that hundreds of troops were deployed form Plymouth Barracks by train - but there are numerous subplots alluding to the demise of the tin mining industry, poverty, employment rights, class and the role played by the Bolitho family and how it amassed its family fortune that still exists today. Barclay's Bank in Penzance is referred to as Bolithos Bank by an older generation even today.

The play is quite a challenge for such a young cast given the depth of the plots - not least for the one member who gets to play the irreverent, archetypal Newlyn fisherman who utters the 'f' word at least once in every line! (I never heard that peculiar Newlyn curse, tuss used though?) Anyone who saw Channel 4's, 'The Catch' will remember that a certain Newlyn skipper could have played that particular part with little prompting!

The play itself tells of events away back in 1896 - when major outbreaks of public disorder necessitated the support of the army to restore civil order - during the play, the 'Riot Act' (from where the saying comes from) is actually read out to the warring fishermen to no avail!  A modern parallel occurred in the late 1970s when local fishermen throughout the South West vented their anger on 'foreigners' (Scottish and East coast mackerel trawlers) with their huge freezer trawler and pursers, each one capable of catching what the entire Cornish fleet of hand-liners could catch in just one haul!  Those days saw George and Daphne Lawry help form the CFPO - which is still with us today to protect fishermen's interests - "united we stand" and all that.

Fishermen from Newlyn, staunch Methodists, did not go to sea on the Sabbath, but visiting boats from Lowestoft (known as Yorkies) did and landed their fish on Monday thus reducing the price of the fish for Newlyn fishermen for the rest of the week. The local fishermen fight back by tipping the whole catch of the Yorkies 100,000 mackerels into the harbour. What starts as a peaceful protest soon turns into violence. Caught in the middle of the disturbance is Thomas Bolitho, local merchant, magistrate, mine owner and mayor. He seems to respect the fisherman's beliefs, but he is also a businessman and he knows that the violent nature of the dispute is not good for business. He tries to compromise with both sides, but soon finds his life is in danger when they both turn against him. 

Symbolically, the play has proved timeless as one of the issues it explores is that of big (fishing) business' uneasy relationship with the very communities from which they are derived and seek to maintain.

If Nick were alive today i'm sure he would be in the midst of writing a play that engendered all that is fishing and Brexit - maybe someone would like to take up that challenge and win themselves the Nick Darke Award by penning a powerful play and in doing so win the £6000 prize!

You can see the play tonight, Friday 23rd March @ 7:30 pm at the 
Drama Studio, Bodmin College - book and pay online.

or next week at The Minack Theatre, Porthcurno - wrap up well and take a cushion!

Tickets online for THE MINACK  01736 810181