Booby’s Bay: a unique and intimate experience
In Cornish theatre’s hall of fame, one name rises above all others: Darke. From a long line of Porthcothan mariners, Nick Darke not only followed in his ancestors’ seaboots as a lobster fisherman, but went on to become a playwright of national distinction. Responsible for a long list of poignant, funny, timely and culturally-important plays, his genius gave us The Catch, The Dead Monkey, Ting Tang Mine, Hell’s Mouth, The Man With Green Hair and The King Of Prussia, among other gems. Sadly, while writing Laughing Gas – the story of Sir Humphry Davy – Nick died in 2005 at the age of only 56. And such was the love felt for him that crowds gathered around the driftwood coffin to say goodbye on Porthcothan beach.
Fortunately, the Darke name lives on in his sons, Jim and Henry, the latter following his father as a writer. This month, his debut play received its first Cornish outing. Booby’s Bay, which has already been staged in regular theatres in London and Bristol, received an altogether different staging “back home”. With the five performances limited to just 15 tickets each, the full-length play in one act, took place inside a holiday home beside the beach on Cornwall’s north coast. A film-maker, whose award-winning Big Mouth was shortlisted for a BAFTA, Henry grew up at Porthcothan, where his mum and fellow film-maker, Jane Darke, still lives.
Plans for a full theatre run of Booby’s Bay in Cornwall are under way, but in the meantime, here’s a taster of what to expect…
Walking into a stranger’s house and finding the remnants of last night’s meal is strange enough; sitting on their sofa and waiting seems a very odd thing to do. But that’s precisely what I did do – and it felt weird, especially as I was then waiting for a piece of theatre to start and I really wasn’t sure from the moment I walked in if I was already in the play, and if it had already started. And of course, I was and it had.
As the story unfolded, I tucked my feet under me, made myself comfy on the sofa and became lost in the sheer beauty of the script and the powerful acting that was so close I could in fact feel and smell the cold coming off the actors’ bodies when they entered, stage left, from the chilly Cornish night.
The story was poignant enough for stage, but to experience it with the sound of the sea rushing into Porthcothan Bay, in an actual “empty” Cornish holiday home (symbolic of all the empty holiday homes in Cornwall) did make me feel like the play’s protagonist, squatter Huck. I was there in solidarity with him and I became fearful of the ever-present threat of a knock on the door from the owner.
I loved all the characters, recognising a bit of them all in the people I know around me in Cornwall.
The seemingly dufus surfer, Dazz, may have seemed a bit of an idiot at first glance, but he wasn’t – he had a big heart, he was kind, he worked hard and he created a life and home for himself against the challenges that moving to a new place as a child can throw at you. You understood why he was what he was – and you kinda forgave him.
In fact, Henry Darke cleverly turned things round. At first I loved Huck and all he stood for, but he didn’t really care about anyone except himself and his final “act” was only acceptable because it prevented Dazz from a horrible future.
The play was funny, sad, moving, petrifying. I was laughing out loud, I was holding my breath with eyes wide open. And when it finished, the clapping and “curtain call” seemed so out of place because we were suddenly brought back to the reality that we had been watching theatre, and that the house and the characters weren’t our everyday reality at all, despite it having felt so real.
It was clear that the voyeuristic 15 in the audience had been part of something quite unique and so special, so beautiful, that for a while it was impossible to articulate what I had experienced.
Originally published in the Western Morning News, 17th March 2018, with thanks to Simon Parker.