Left – Huw Higginson and Amanda Stephens-Lee. Photo – Rebecca Martin
On The Shore Of The Wide World is a big name for what seems like, at the outset, to be quite a small story. It is the story of one family living in Manchester, some of whom have never left. But as the show progresses, the aptness of the title becomes more and more apt. This small world is on the shores of a larger one: both geographically and emotionally.
On The Shore Of The Wide World follows the Holmes family. Son Alex (Graeme McRae) has just started dating his first girlfriend Sarah (Lily Newbury-Freeman), with whom younger son Christopher (Alex Beauman) is madly in love. Father Peter (Huw Higginson) and mother Alice (Amanda Stephens-Lee) are drifting apart, but do not have the words or the ability to discuss the grey area that separates them. Grandfather Charlie (Paul Bertram) has a drinking problem. While he seems able to bond with his grandson Christopher in a way that Peter cannot, he is also abusing his wife Ellen (Kate Fitzpatrick), who would like nothing but to leave. And then a tragedy forces these problems, quietly bubbling away under the mundanity of everyday life, to the surface.
Paul Abbott’s TV series Shameless has given us a blueprint for the sprawling saga of a working class Mancunian family, and for a little while, I thought this show was going to be similar. But it’s not, not at all. On The Shore Of The Wide World is subtle and complex, dark in a completely different way. Its focus is communication, or lack thereof: while Abbott's Gallagher family never had any problems talking to each other, the Holmes family must learn how to share their pain and move forward together. The show focuses very much on the relationships between characters rather than the events of the plot: the tragedy at the play’s heart is not explicitly revealed until we’ve seen characters reacting to it for some time. While a lot of characters are typically on stage at one time, most scenes take place between only two people, these brief dialogues flowing smoothly from one to the next, intimate dialogues taking place on the shores of a wider world. The rhythm of the play is tidal, rising and swelling and receding, but always inexorable.
This is an absolutely brilliant piece of theatre. It features some amazing character studies – particular commendation must go here to Huw Higginson as Peter and Lily Newbury-Freeman as Sarah, who are outstanding. At nearly three hours, it’s a long play, but I didn’t even notice. Anthony Skuse has directed a tour-de-force with On The Shore Of The Wide World. There is never a lull, never a moment where you get bored or distracted. Instead, this tidal procession of tete-a-tetes allures and fascinates.
Go and see this show and let it break over you like a wave. You will not be disappointed. On The Shore Of The Wide World is an incredibly strong start to the Griffin Independent season. I can’t wait to see what pantsguys do next.
pantsguys and Griffin Independent present
On the Shore of the Wide World
by Simon Stephens
Director Anthony Skuse
Venue: SBW Stables Theatre | 10 Nimrod Street, Kings Cross NSW
Dates: 8 January – 1 February 2014
Tickets: $35 – $28
Bookings: 02 9361 3817