A couple of miles along the Essex coast from Clacton, is the village of Jaywick. Jaywick has the distinction of being the most deprived area of Britain. Originally a holiday resort, WWII saw an influx of year-round residents. But as years passed, the buildings fell into disrepair, the risk of flooding increased and the area was largely neglected by local and national governments. The community spirit remained high though, with a core group of concerned residents doing their best to make positive change.
Writer Dan Murphy used to holiday in the area as a child, so its status as 2013’s most deprived town came as a surprise. With fond memories of the village, he headed to Jaywick armed with his dictaphone. After two years of interviews and public meetings, Murphy had over 500 hours of recordings. From this source, he delicately sculpts a verbatim montage of a forgotten place on the edge of the sea, filled with passion and fight.
The use of material from the meetings is a welcome approach to verbatim theatre rather than simply using chopped up monologues, often delivered with little movement. Here we see characters talking and interacting with each other genuinely rather than forcing dialogue out of solo interviews. This is hugely effective in giving the whole piece more momentum and shape.
Four actors, all skilled multi-rollers, play a countless array of characters and with them comes a similar range of attitudes. The performers use a technique called recorded delivery – rather than learning lines, they exactly repeat the edited source material that is piped through a pair of headphones. This prevents any gradual deviation away from the script or characterisation, and helps to honour the veracity of the material and its intentions. Even though there are moments that feel stereotypical, it’s a powerful reminder that stereotypes have to come from somewhere. Fortunately these moments are few and fleeting.
This production doesn’t feel exploitative, nor does it wallow. Instead it celebrates unity and small initiatives that individuals are doing to improve their hometown. The storyline following a man called Danny as he sets up and runs Jaywick Got Talent is particularly moving and provides a coherent throughline amongst the otherwise fragmented structure. There are moments of frustration and UKIP, but if there weren’t, the script wouldn’t feel genuine – no one is happy all the time, particularly if their lives are under media attack for being so terrible.
With colourful design, tight movement direction (that only sometimes feels a bit too busy) and a script that sophisticatedly uses verbatim theatre, Carry on Jaywick is not just a highlight of this year’s VAULT festival – it’s an excellent example of the potential of verbatim theatre.
Carry on Jaywick runs through 26 February.
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