Review of stage version of Ben Myers' novel The Offing at Scarborough's Stephen Joseph Theatre - funny, moving, poignant adaptation
There is an inevitable flutter of worry when a much-loved book is adapted for stage or TV – and that rises to panic when a director announces he has added his own material.
Fans of Ben Myers’ gem The Offing relax – Paul Robinson, artistic director of the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough, has taken the coming-of-age tale from page to stage, adapted sensitively, by Janice Okoh, beautifully.
Set in the aftermath of the Second World War, the core of the book – the relationship between ageing Dulcie and teenager Robert – is intact while the story of Dulcie’s past love affair with young poet Romy flits round the edges with a spectral quality.
In the novel Romy’s is an anguished ghostly figure much remembered and talked about by Dulcie; in the play she is given a physical presence.
The setting – fabulously recreated – remains a cottage in Robin Hood’s Bay which is why the staging in the nearby Scarborough theatre is so appropriate. The play’s next stop is at co-producers’ base Live Theatre, Newcastle. Robert is from a mining village in the North East.
He is a 16-year-old lad, destined for the pit, who spends a summer wandering from his home near Durham along coast and through countryside to Scarborough where he intends to find a job.
He stops at Dulcie’s home and gets no further as the life force that is Dulcie enraptures him, shapes him and releases in him the creative nature he has tried to suppress and deny.
Add on the mystery of who was Romy and what happened to her and you have the plot.
It is heavy with themes – love, class, education, identity, understanding, war, relationships with Europe and ambition – which the adaptation wears lightly.
It is not by chance that Dulcie gives Robert a copy of DH Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover to read. Lawrence was from a mining family and defied his class and its expectations to go on to be one of the finest novelists of the 20th century.
He also wrote about sexuality, emotional health, vitality, spontaneity and instinct – all of which Dulcie has in spades.
The life force is brought to life by Cate Hamer whose energy anchors the play. She is magnificent in her cry for freedom of spirit as she swirls, spins, dances and dashes round the stage.
She is also its calm and centre at the play’s most poignant moments as she contemplates loss, depression and grief.
James Gladdon is wonderful as the naive, puny, reserved and confused sixteen-year-old who we see blossom into the man he is set to become.
He is kind, wounded by a war he was not old enough to fight in but whose effects he feels, and a dreamer who, with Dulcie’s quiet guidance, discovers tolerance and another way of being.
This is not Cider with Rosie or The Graduate – Dulcie does not seduce Robert into sex. Her sexual love and longing is for Romy, a young woman who Dulcie also nurtured into a poet.
Ingvild Lakou plays Romy – floating in and out of the action, reading her poetry as an underscore and contrast to Dulcie and Robert’s friendship.
The company of three are in perfect harmony in a piece that is beautiful, moving and evocative. You can hear the seagulls, the lap of the waves, smell the heady scent of flowers in Dulcie’s meadow, see the join where sea meets sky – called the Offing – and feast on Dulcie’s love of life and the good things in it.
The Offing runs at the Stephen Joseph Theatre from now until Saturday October 30. Tickets: 01723 370541 and online at www.sjt.uk.com