★★★★ | Beacons

CREDIT: Scott Rylander

There isn’t much in life that’s quite as sedate and safe as an ice cream van on the English coast. Tabitha Mortiboy’s new play “Beacons” starts off as a warm and cosy ramble through the lives of three people as they pass through a series of days at the end of a summer season. They talk about the weather, the lack of customers due to a diverted footpath and the new ice cream van that’s taken away their business. Middle-aged Julie owns the van and is helped by teenager Skye. Formerly homeless Northerner, Bernard pops along to chat. It’s almost mundane and twee, initially, but Mortiboy’s play isn’t all it first appears to be.

She cleverly lulls the audience into a false sense of security with gentle comedy. Discordant notes are casually inserted from time to time but almost pass unnoticed and the play rolls onwards to revelations of what lies beneath the 99’s and the endless cups of coffee and what links these three people. The first hour builds up tension which the viewer doesn’t necessarily notice approaching but it’s the last thirty minutes when it finally comes into it’s own with a cathartic denouement and a poignant ending.

It’s a warm and engaging piece and Mortiboy is a promising playwright with a strong ear for dialogue and there’s something peculiarly British about this play. The more lyrical of the speeches proclaimed by 16 year old Skye don’t always hit the right note but her knack of capturing every day small talk and the underlying nuances to this is a joy to behold. There are some minor issues with pace but it becomes clearer as the play draws to a climax that this is part of the structure of play and is necessary.

An evocative set design by Tom Rogers fills the intimate space of the Park Theatre. There’s a functional ice cream van and the weed dotted grassy edge of Beachy Head rolls towards the cliffs, set against a changing sky. Shifting lighting perspectives and soundscapes add to the sense of being at the seaside and that this isn’t always such a place that is solely a twee aspect of English life.

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This is a play where you start of fancying a Cornetto and a stroll along the prom but finish up wondering whether you’ve got a tissue in your bag. Mortiboy is definitely a writer to watch out for.

Beacons is playing at Park Theatre, until 16th April, 020 7870 6876

@chrisb715