Holy Mackerel! ~ Key Theatre, Peterborough ~ 30.01.2016

As an antidote to Pantomime, the acclaimed Eastern Angles (from East Anglia, surprisingly enough) have teamed up with the Shanty Theatre Company (from Lyme Regis) to produce a musical farce based on the 1892 Newlyn Fishing Riots. As you do.

Now, you might be thinking that tensions over Victorian Fishing Laws can’t possibly produce a rich vein of comedy, but more fool you. Harry Long’s overly complex plot (it is a farce, after all – of course the plot is unnecessarily complicated!) focuses on the build up to the riots caused by the arrival of East Anglian fishermen to the peaceful and strictly religious town of Newlyn – and the problems caused when the newcomers failed to observe the Sabbath, as was tradition in their new hometown.

In a bid to try and appease both his boss (the strict overlord of the fishing boats, Brassy Balls), and the love of his life (the religious Kerra, who pleads with him to not fish on a Sunday) – the hero of the hour, the hapless Norman, builds his plans to keep his job and win his girl. If this happens to drag an entire community to the brink of war, cost a Harbourmaster his job, cast out some godly folk from the priest’s favour and accidentally be heralded as the chosen one and worshipped as a demi-God in the process, then that’s not entirely his fault.

The five-strong cast switch expertly between roles as they portray both the Cornwalian and East Anglian folk, with accents to match both sets of characters.

Holy Mackerel, in the style of many a pantomime, is a show that doesn’t take itself too seriously and regularly breaks the fourth wall to great comic effect. The lead villain, Brassy Balls – perfectly pitched by Christian Edwards, is an absolute riot. We could probably talk about building a spin-off around that character. Perhaps just unleash him on the unsuspecting public in a Trigger Happy TV style and film improvised segments.

Joining Christian Edwards is writer Harry Long, who himself plays our unlikely saviour Norman with just the perfect amount of innocence and determination. Daniel Copeland puts in a great turn in both his Vicar character (of course! Farce, remember!) and that of the Harbourmaster – whereby he is involved in a wonderful farcical mixup with Louise Callaghan’s Mags, who is in disguise herself as the Harbourmaster and Brassy Balls. Mabel Clements completes the lineup with perhaps the widest range in characterisation, going from the tender, God-fearing gentlewoman Kerra to psycho Alice – a member of the Newlyn Tourist Board kept on a tight leash (literally) for the safety of the public – in a blink of an eye.

Sadly, I saw this show on the final day of its run – it’s one I’d gladly see again it was that much fun. But in the meantime I would highly recommend you take a look at other work by both Shanty Theatre Company and Eastern Angles, and also keep an eye out for more appearances of the five very talented cast members involved.


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