Catastrophe Bay

Reviewer's rating

Two and a half hours fly by with Catastrophe Bay, Bristol Old Vic Theatre School’s graduate production created by Kit Buchan and Jim Barne. 

Set in Newfrock, a fishing village gathered around a lighthouse in Cornwall, a thriving, multilingual community protects themselves from the threat of a ruthless merchant shipping company intent on finding out why their ships are going down. It’s a place where everyone is welcome, where backgrounds, language, and accents fit together like a patchwork quilt, and rather than being the insular middle-of-nowhere that the villainous ship-owners imagine, it is connected outwards by the sea. Newfrock feels European in its identity, with schoolchildren that are more familiar with the capital of Russia than they are the Queen, whilst the pickled-egg eating Murdo Moxy, a representative of the shipping company sent from London, strides around furious and small-minded. 

Barrels, wooden crates, and ropes make up part of the sumptuous set (designed by Matthew Cassar), creating a richly drawn world of pub galleys and town squares. Amber-lit rooms full of instruments and dance are then swallowed by darkness as the sea laps ominous waves at the shore. With lighting by Hugo Dodsworth and costumes designed by Cassar, all elements come together to create gorgeous storytelling, led by a powerful cast that is as commanding as they are cohesive. 

The society of Newfrock is intricately developed so that it really feels like a world you want to be a part of (I’d definitely have stayed), and the familiarity of certain characters is overcome by the freshness of the actors’ interpretations. Joshua Hurley deftly brings humour and interesting inner confidence to his Father Frank Morel, Josh Penrose’s grunting sailor Tom Scudgeon has an intelligent twinkle in his eye, and it is brilliant to watch Joséphine-Fransilija Brookman play a full-realised Maisie Tremaine whose roles as mother and landlady are just a part of who she is as a woman. The whole cast is great, but also it’s massive, so highlighting just a few performances only serves as an example of the talent and strength of choice made by each person on stage. Finally, there are some beautiful musical moments, in particular, the lullaby is sung by Victoria Hoyle and Eve Pereira, and the instrumental accompaniments are a lovely touch. 

Catastrophe Bay is a joyous show, and though the storyline doesn’t really surprise and can feel a little bit predictable, it is still one with a lot to say, and the creative team behind it says it with flair.