Ricky Fieron, Kieran Lynn, Zain Salim, Nick Chee Ping KellingtonCruel Sea

By John Fay
Everyman Theatre (5th July 2007)
Then on tour around Liverpool (see below)

Reviewed by Ritchie Hunter

A backdrop of filmed interview shows the ghost-like figures of ex-seamen, whose voices lend experience and authenticity to what is happening on the stage. They tell of 3,000 ships sunk in the Second World War, of 30,000 lives lost, of horrendous conditions, but also of the comradeship and bravery, the funny incidents and homecomings. That 20% of this wartime merchant navy was non-white is little known.

John Fay has taken the reminiscences of these veterans and woven them together with the story of a Liverpool family. Dicky’s dad has been discharged at sea. In other words, his ship has been torpedoed and he is missing. His company stop paying wages, so his family suffer as well. This doesn’t put Dicky off though; he is determined to follow his dad into the merchant navy and claims that he has already got his sea legs, (although his sister Kitty tells us he has ‘C’ legs, bowed that is).

The play progresses from shore to ship and back. On shore leave the seamen are harangued because, not being in uniform, they are thought to be cowards. At sea they work in appalling conditions, never knowing if they will be entombed in a hold if their ship is torpedoed. They have to put up with the brutality of officers and with discrimination if they are non-white sailors – the practice of paying them less than whites for the same work was common, (and still is!).

The war ends, but the callous and inhuman treatment of non-whites continues. 800 Chinese seamen with homes in Liverpool, and some with wives and children, are rounded up and shipped off by the authorities; they have served their purpose and are no longer needed in the British workforce.

The title of the play does not convey the content. The sea is cruel at times, but it is the way humans are used, chewed up and spat out by the ‘system’ that is most cruel.

Surprisingly, even after these horrific events, most of the ex-seamen shown say they would go through it all again.

John Fay’s plays include those about Tom Mann, Joe Hill, the ‘Hawk’ women who smashed jets bound for East Timor, and Sonae (the polluting factory in Kirkby). It’s good to know he can return from time to time from the populist Coronation Street and Clocking Off, to work with communities to get their stories told.

Dead Fish and Chipboard, Fay's play about the Sonae factory in Kirkby

Information and tour dates from the Everyman Press release

This three-year project was a collaboration between Everyman and Playhouse Theatre and Community Department with Age Exchange, Age Concern, and the Liverpool Culture Company’s Creative Communities programme. It captured the stories of Arab, Caribbean, Chinese, Egyptian, Malaysian, Somali, White British and Yemeni seafarers from wartime onwards in over 100 hours of film and 1,800 pages of transcription.
Cruel Sea aims to bring these incredible stories back to the communities that formed them.

Community Tour Dates

Tour tickets available from Box Office on 0151 709 4776

Everyman Theatre, Hope Street, Liverpool
Tuesday 5 - Saturday 7 July 7:45pm
Matinee: Friday 6 July 1:30pm

Rock Ferry High School
Monday 9 July 6:30pm

Gaiety Theatre, Isle of Man
Thursday 12 July 7:30pm

Kirkby Unemployment Centre
Saturday 14 July 7:30pm

Halewood College, Halewood, Knowsley
Tuesday 17 July 7.00pm

St. John’s Community Centre, Holly Road, Liverpool
Friday 20 - Saturday 21 July 7.30pm

West Everton Community Centre, Everton Brow, Liverpool
Tuesday 24 - Wednesday 25 July 7.30pm

Cardinal Heenan, Honeysgreen Lane, Liverpool
Thursday 26 - Friday 27 July 7.30pm

St. Columbus Community Centre, Pinehurst Road, Liverpool
Saturday 28 July 4:30pm & 7:30pm

Merseyside Caribbean Centre
Monday 30 July 7:30pm

Kensington Fields Community Centre, Hall Lane, Kensington
Tuesday 31 July 7:30pm
Wednesday 1 August 2:30pm & 7:30pm

Marybone Youth and Community Centre, Fontenoy Street, Liverpool
Thursday 2 August 7:30pm

Eldonian Village Hall, Vauxhall
Friday 3 August 8:00pm

Unity Youth & Community Centre, Dove Street, Liverpool
Saturday 4 August 7:30pm

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Comment left by Paul Cosgrove on 12th July, 2007 at 8:14
The review captures some of my thoughts about how I felt watching the piece. What is interesting is that the reviewer illustrates the pedigree of the writer. This was not just a play written to accomodate `Lpool 800` or `Cap of Culture` project, it was about people and circumstances. In a sense history. History which is so often neglected and never told. Fay, writes for and about communities, I would urge people who may not traditionally regard themselves as theatre goers to catch a performance at one of the many interesting venues.

Comment left by Mollie Geezi3 on 17th November, 2007 at 17:45
Zain Salim Was The Best actor in this play he woz boss and should be in a lot more plays x

Comments are closed for this review