Carry on Jaywick is a charming and contemporary new piece of verbatim theatre that explores home, hope and hardship.
Jaywick, on the east coast of Essex, is a dilapidated and decaying seaside town. For the past three years it has ranked as the most deprived area in Britain. In 2015 Channel 5’s Benefits by the Sea eviscerated the local community in a poverty porn style look at unemployment, anti-social behaviour and substance misuse. This production is Jaywick’s time to talk back – and they’ve a lot to say for themselves.
Four actors take to the stage as a recording of a loud, slightly incoherent man from Essex fills the room. The actors each put in headphones and as they do the recording fades and the performance begins. The actors both listen to and relay the real words of various locals – from school girls to councillors – in real time.
The novelty of this style soon wears off as the play’s deft structuring and commendable performances draw the audience in. We find a community that is both broken and resilient, tired yet hopeful, difficult but endearing.
Characters are laid bare – warts, EDL support and all – in the pursuit of presenting the real Jaywick. Danny, whose voice we heard at the top of the show, is on a mission: to mount the first ever Jaywick’s Got Talent. And nothing will get in his way.
The play’s construction is intricate and intimate. It retains a completely natural feel despite being edited and sourced from over two years of recordings and research. A narrative arc prevails, despite a lot of scenes of a lot of people just ‘talking about life’.
Murphy builds a palette of characters and environments that populate Jaywick in a lively, sensitive and, most importantly, realistic way. It avoids verbatim pitfalls of being too tragic and too static, with tasteful and unexpected comedy, and clever use of settings and staging. Moments such as the dancing scene show a real flair in both Murphy and director Hannah Joss’s styles.
A complement of strong actors supports this compelling concept. Debra Baker is a comedic chameleon, reminding of a young Julie Walters. The larger than life Danny comes to life in Graham O’Hara. Georgia Brown is a convincing fabric of the community, whilst Clive Keene seems more like a watchful and kind narrator.
Joss’s direction is clever, fast-moving and reflexive, however not beginning or ending individual scenes (or the show itself) with bookends or a bang dulls proceedings slightly. So too is the almost complete lack of environmental sounds: Jaywick’s history, charm and struggle comes from its evocative seaside location. To have recorded the voices but not the vicinity seems a little odd.
Cécile Trémolières makeshift and multi-coloured design is fun, practical and smattered with tat. The use of the chalkboard and the multi-use of objects such as palettes, chairs and a coat rail shows a strong cohesion between direction and design.
Carry on Jaywick is a refreshing, thoughtful and well-crafted piece. It speaks directly to audiences, to today, with an aching relatability, presenting real people and asking real questions. The live use of recordings allows for the utmost verisimilitude, down to throaty coughs and brain farts, highlighting the unjustness and unlikeness of the Channel 5 documentary.
A show that is surely set to tour across the country, reaching audiences who may never have hd their voices centre stage before – and definitely not via ear piece into an actor – it doesn’t glorify or typify, berate or belittle.
Carry On Jaywick has a meaning and mode far more impressive than most fringe theatre, and exemplifies the exciting, vibrant programming of Vault Festival. To the creators and originators both – in the words of Danny: “shine on”.