On The Shore Of The Wide World - Royal Exchange Theatre - 18.4.05

Port, Simon Stephen's last play at the Royal Exchange, received widespread critical acclaim so it's with some anticipation that "On The Shore Of The Wide World" makes it's world premiere in Manchester before moving to the capital.

Based around the relationships of families and particular that of fathers and sons, writing the play was a cathartic experience. When Stephen's was 29 his father had died of lung cancer, at the same time his first song was just over one years old. It was this personal experience and mixed emotions of joy and despair which fuels this play, although that's not to say it's a straightforward autobiographical piece.

The opening scene that introduces Alex (Thomas Morrison) and Sarah (Carla Henry) is simple and direct, but in many ways it's these believable characters that bring the whole ensemble together. The inter-generational relationships that bind the piece reflect their own lives through these two youthful lovers. For Alex and Sarah it's their first serious relationship and Alice (Clocking Off's Siobhan Finneran) and Peter (Heartbeat's Nicholas Gleaves) start to reflect on their own relationship, the relationship with their parents and their own hopes and fears.

A tragedy involving their youngest son Christopher opens up a series of holes in each of the partnerships and the second half of the play deals on how these individuals react. In Alex's case it is to run away to London, Alice chooses to withdraw and confide in a virtual stranger as does Peter. The men look at their relationships with their fathers and although they recognize they're perhaps doing a better job, they still think they can do more but struggle to work out how exactly to do it. What makes the play such an engaging story is the dialogue is interwoven between each of the three generations. Passages are replicated, roles reversed to the point where the children become the parents and this is all fused with a script which can make you laugh out loud one moment and examine your own life the next.

When Simon Stephen's wrote "On The Shore Of The Wide World" he couldn't imagine it in any other theatre than the Royal Exchange, but watch it tonight with it's simultaneously grand and grounded themes, it's very specific location but international appeal, you can see this becoming much bigger than Stockport or Manchester. With drama as rich as this it could really run and run.

Alex McCann

On The Shore Of The Wide World runs until May 14
Tickets are priced between £7.50 and £25.50
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