From a scriptwriting competition entry to a touring production, this new play, 'fell' is a gift from heaven for the two young actors bringing this piece, set in the wilderness of the Cumbrian fells to communities across the county and wider north west writes Karen Morley-Chesworth.
On a dark, cold, wet evening, as you step into the theatre space with fresh brown trout cooking on a camp stove in the centre of the set, you are quickly transported to the hills above Cockermouth.
This first performance at the Kirkgate Arts Centre in Cockermouth was an ideal place to see fell.
The set with the lighting and sound technician's excellent skills immerses you in the isolation of the Lake District terrain, as we discover Jake and Lyle, two young people who by fate collide.
Jake, the lad of the land, is played beautifully by Tarek Slater, who captures the persona of many a farmers son, brought up in the harsh world of fell farming. With love, respect and honest understanding of the natural world, his compassion shines through his gruff exterior.
Daniel Paul plays schoolboy Lyle, who Jake finds wandering the dangerous landscape in just his school shoes and uniform. His performance brings to life the classroom character you see, messing around outside fast food outlets near school gates.
The transitions into each scene dovetail seamlessly with the addition of an Elvis Costello backtrack - as the back story to each youths' arrival on the fell alone unravels.
The script is so tight. Each word counting to bringing humour and drama to situations which are upsetting and very real.
The original script by Chris Salt was runner-up in the Octagon Theatre National Prize and the Papatango Prize. With funding from Arts Council England, he was able to develop the piece through a workshop with the Cumbria Youth Alliance and also explore the amended script with the two actors, hosted by Kirkgate Arts Centre.
The isolation many young people in rural areas feel is at the heart of this production, and you can hear those young voices captured in the script.
The only part of the performance which jarred with me was the use of specific Cumbrian dialect phrases - these lines didn't sit authentically with Paul's beautiful Boltonian accent.
The desire to geotag the setting so precisely with the language wasn't necessary. Though the fells were the third actor on stage, this is a story which transcends location.
Set in-the-round, this piece showcases the talent of the performers. Being so close to the action, you can feel the chemistry of the two actors. They work together well, taking a brilliant script and adding their additional layers of emotion and drama. Their stage presence grows as the scenes become darker, and their character's future more uncertain.
To say too much about the plot would ruin this play. However, I do say it is well worth visiting your local venue as it tours Cumbria. Paul and Slater are two actors to watch, as their career progresses.
Reviewer: Karen Morley-Chesworth
Reviewed: 1st February 2020
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★