Cromer, the Norfolk coastal town with a collapsing pier and fading glory days, is a lovely place in which to grow up or end up, but there’s a larger stage out there where “life” itself is to be found. So says May (Wendy Nottingham), café proprietor and Bette Davis aficionado, as she encourages her camp young protégé Nemo (Josh Barrow) to fly the nest to London and take up his place at uni to study drama and immerse himself in the gay scene that is non-existent in his home town.
James McDermott’s comedy-drama of changing times and spreading wings is peopled with likeable characters and relatable situations. May – who in her youth aspired to be a professional dancer – is selling up her café because faceless chain businesses such as Nandos and Pret are squeezing out older establishments and robbing the town of its distinctive character. Cromer is dying, according to local baker Ken (Paul Easom), and he’s not happy about it. He’s not happy about May’s reluctance to take up his invitations to get cosy in front of his Diagnosis Murder box set either, but that’s got more to do with her sexuality than the economic evolution of the neighbourhood.
The fourth player is Daz (Elliot Liburd), Nemo’s lifelong pal and college drop-out who wants Nemo to stay put so he’ll have company as he settles for the traditional template of “Money, marriage, mortgage”.
Played out on a lovely set by Caitlin Abbott that fits Park 90 like a glove, this production has bags of charm, even if its script is over-reliant on a small pool of writerly tricks such as rather obvious metaphors and the repeated use of catering tasks to distract from meaningful interaction.
What makes this a solid four-star show is the quality of the cast and the appeal of the well-crafted characters they portray. Easom as Ken has beautiful comic timing and projects a touching devotion to the past, Barrow inhabits Nemo with a winning wide-eyed uncertainty, and in Daz, Liburd creates a convincing lunk without making him a one-dimensional chav. Meanwhile, Nottingham’s May is a reassuring maternal presence holding the group together.
When Nemo’s imminent departure triggers a clash with Daz, there’s an admirable and honest intensity that’s quite riveting, and their second act reconciliation takes a turn that feels genuinely authentic even if not unpredictable. This is very fine acting indeed.
By the end of the play, some characters have changed their plans, while others have reconsidered their priorities in what we’re left feeling is a hopeful way. Full of fun but suffused with sadness, Time and Tide effectively and affectionately summons the spirit of Cromer: there’s life in the old town yet.
Written by: James McDermott
Directed by: Rob Ellis
Produced by: Relish Theatre with Park Theatre
Playing until: 29 February 2020
Booking link: https://www.parktheatre.co.uk/whats-on/time-and-tide