Norwich bus jam inspires fishy tale

Trapped in traffic on a Norwich bus, playwright Andrew Holland dreamt up the bones of a new play which as DAVID HENSHALL discovers Eastern Angles are about to take out on tour.

Most of us when we're stuck in traffic might tend to worry about getting to where we're going on time or, maybe, think dark thoughts about the people who are causing the hold-up. But not Andrew Holland.

Trapped on a bus in Norwich, he dreamed up a play. Not a whole play in one journey because the delay was not that long, but he started sketching out the ideas behind Up Out O' The Sea which has become the new Eastern Angles touring production going out on the road from this week.

Opening at the Lowestoft Seagull and covering just over three months, the show drops in at theatres and centres in more then 50 towns and villages across the region, including performances in Loddon, Beccles, Alysham and Sheringham.

It is the story of Carrie, a young journalist who turns up in a small coastal town and becomes fascinated by their famous lifeboat disaster, 30 years earlier. She starts to ask questions and discovers that not everybody wants a stranger unpicking the past. Have they got something to hide?

Her arrival stirs up clashing emotions among the locals. Impressionable young Tweedy is quickly smitten by her, Mrs Jope the librarian is full of helpful advice but old Dolphie, Suffolk's grumpiest fisherman, is curiously cagey about the awful events years ago.

Up Out O' The Sea mixes laughter and tears and shows how apparently normal and settled lives can be turned upside down when secrets thought to be long buried come spilling out.

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The play may have started life on a Norwich bus, but Andrew gathered images from Aldeburgh and lost ports like Slaughden and Dunwich in Suffolk, the fishing shacks of Felixstowe Ferry.

'A mixture of many places with wide horizons and an atmosphere of the people who have lived there, the people who have passed through and the people who have wanted to get away,' said the playwright.

Another of Andrew's plays, Waiting to Fly, was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and he met Ivan Cutting, artistic director of the respected regional touring theatre Eastern Angles, at a workshop of his piece, The Cloud Sensation, at the University of East Anglia. They were introduced by Sam Potter who had worked with Holland at the National Theatre Studio.

After taking English and theology at Cambridge, he spent time with various small-scale theatre companies in several capacities, education officer, assistant director and actor.

'You had to be adaptable,' he adds with a laugh. 'On an English language tour of Italian schools, I was once cast as Miss Prism in The Importance of Being Ernest.'

Holland describes himself smilingly as a freelance writer with a broad portfolio. Apart from playwriting, he is a script-reader for the National Theatre and, among other things, writes descriptive audios for the visually impaired. 'People in galleries, for example, to enable them to describe objects of interest. It's a fascinating discipline. Trying to describe an abstract work of art to someone who can't see is quite challenging.'

How has Up Out O'The Sea stood up to the demands of a long-time director like Ivan Cutting? 'We did a workshop of it last year and, although a lot of it remains the same, a lot of it is different. You reach a point where you know exactly what it is you have written and you can change quite lot. Directors have to make something physical out of something that is mental to you, an idea. They ask questions you don't ask of yourself.'

It's a story told with humour as well as drama and his journalist Carrie starts to ruffle a lot of feathers with her probe into the 30-year-old tragedy, partly because of her unsympathetic attitude.

'Her investigation stirs up feelings about how people deal with the things that happened as a result of the disaster. Things they have tried to hide inside them. It's also about the people who stick in one place and those who bring in a breath of fresh air. And Carrie finds herself in a similar position to somebody who was around 30 years before.'

In the touring production Laura Harding plays Carrie with Mike Aherne as Dolphie and Francis Woolf as Tweedy. Lisa-Marie Hoctor plays Emily and Milly and Lisa Tramontin is Mrs Jope.

t Up Out O' The Sea will be performed at Lowestoft Seagull on March: 4-5, �8.95/�7.95, 01502 589726,

t The production then visits Beccles Hungate on March 18 (01502 712366); Sheringham Little Theatre on April 7 (01263 822347); Aylsham Town Hall on May 18 (01473 211498); Loddon Hales Barn on May 24-25 (01473 211498)