Taking our crabs to Edinburgh

PUBLISHED: 08:00 03 August 2008 | UPDATED: 21:00 05 July 2010

EASTERN Angles, the touring theatre company which brings local stories to life, is once again putting the heart and soul of the region on display at the Edinburgh Festival.

EASTERN Angles, the touring theatre company which brings local stories to life, is once again putting the heart and soul of the region on display at the Edinburgh Festival.

Eastern Angles are back at the Edinburgh Festival. The company enjoyed great success with Truckstop in 2007 when Janet Bamford and Eugenia Caruso both won Best Actress in The Stage Awards and the play was given 'Must See' status.

I Caught Crabs in Walberswick is a new work by Suffolk playwright, Joel Horwood - himself a Festival award-winner - and it will tour a number of venues and schools in the region - and in other parts of the country - when it returns from Edinburgh in September. It is presented in association with High Tide who previewed the play at their festival in May at The Cut, Halesworth.

Set on a lovely hot summer's day, I Caught Crabs in Walberswick takes a very contemporary and explosive look at rural teenage life. Tomorrow best mates Fitz and Wheeler face their last GCSE exam. Today they are fishing for crabs on a bridge in sleepy Walberswick when suddenly an attractive girl arrives on the scene and it starts a mad 24 hours which will change the lives of the three 16-year-olds forever.

Wheeler is a bright high-flyer destined for university; soccer-mad Fitz is struggling to cope with his dysfunctional father and his studies; and posh girl Daniella feels misunderstood by her neurotic mother. All three are in search of some sort of action but the big question is, after hooking up with Dani and making a reckless road trip up the Suffolk coast, will Fitz and Wheeler's friendship survive?

Joel Horwood knows a bit about being a teenager in the countryside. He's 27 and grew up just outside Leiston. He went to school at Beccles Sir John Leman and studied English Literature at Kent University where, for most of his stay, he was confused about what the future might hold for him.

Then one day he had an idea for a musical which he wrote with the help of college friends. The songs were composed by another friend from the village of Reydon, Ben Rous, and a career path opened up as though by magic. Mikey the Pikey went to the Edinburgh Festival in 2005 and carried off the coveted Cameron Mackintosh Award - chosen by the famous impresario himself. Rous, says Horwood, is a brilliant musician who runs bands in the Leiston area.

The following year he wrote Food, a play about a perfectionist Gordon Ramsey-type worried stiff about losing his top chef status, and this was a Fringe First winner at Edinburgh. His Cattleprod Shakedown was staged at Alan Ayckbourn's Stephen Joseph Theatre and earned Horwood a place on the Royal Court and BBC 'The 50' initiative for promising writers.

What's it like to take your play to Edinburgh? "It's pretty nerve-wracking as a competitor - and massively inspiring because you're up against some of the best writers around. It's a great opportunity to share work but scary because you can't share audiences all the time. It's terrifying because you might go completely unnoticed and fascinating because everybody is under the same pressure to produce their best stuff."

Is there a bit of cynical humour in the title of I Caught Crabs in Walberswick? "Yes, it's a deliberate double entendre," he laughs, referring to the minute, contagious crab-like creatures fond of the nether regions, once allegedly the bane of communal military toilets and leading to scrawled notices saying, 'It's no good standing on the seat, the crabs in this place jump six feet!'

"The play was commissioned by Ivan Cutting at Eastern Angles to run for a young audience and I think the 16-year-olds at the heart of the play would really enjoy the idea. When they are catching their crabs it's one of the jokes they might make, so I figured that I'd let the characters name the play really."

Joel Horwood spent a lot of time at Walberswick in his youth. "A place full of memories. I used to go with friends to make a fire on the beach and stay up late and it was interesting to meet people who spoke so differently, girls who went to St Georges or boys who went to Harrow. They came from a completely different world and through them I discovered a lot of things that I would otherwise have had no contact with. It was also somewhere you went to try and kiss girls, so it was a brilliant, coming-of-age place.

"The whole play is about that: coming of age, confronting your future, one that will take you away from you best friends. It's a time when you must decide whether to continue in education or move into other things. I think the two boys at the heart of the play are already struggling with the fact that their lives are even now beginning to pull them apart and it raises the stakes dramatically if they have an important commitment, the exam, in the morning. There's no sex in the play but there is a clumsy 16-year-old testosterone-driven desire to impress."

Horwood believes there are huge pressures on youngsters in rural Suffolk today. "There's a disenfranchised group of teenagers who have no viable career choice. If you stay here, you may find a job but it will probably be quite limited and I think the idea is growing to stay in education and find a way of moving to London. It is becoming more and more the only place to make a living."

The play is directed by Lucy Kerbel who has associations with the National Theatre, Old Vic and Royal Court. Aaron Foy is Fitz and Harry Hepple is Wheeler with Gemma Soul as Dani and Andrew Barron and Rosie Thomson playing the other parts. Foy and Soul are making their professional debuts.

The play will be at the Bungay Fisher Theatre on October 1 at 7.30pm. For tickets ring 01986 897130.

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