German Skerries

BY ROBERT HOLMAN
03 March 2016 — 2 April 2016

★★★★ "Time has lent an extra layer of poignancy to Robert Holman’s 1977 play since it is set in a vanished era, when Teesside was “a mass of industry” and British Steel was a major force in Redcar. It is clearly no accident that German Skerries is being revived, in association with the Orange Tree, by Up in Arms who produced Barney Norris’s Vistors and Eventide. Like Norris, Holman is a born quietist who writes about hopes, dreams and the minutiae of everyday life.

Holman provides an extraordinarily rich portrait of people trying to work out how to live and of a community in which a thriving steel industry poses a threat to the natural environment...

Alice Hamilton’s production is suitably strong on atmosphere. James Perkins’s design captures the tufty roughness of this grassy wasteland and George Dennis’s sound score embraces everything from ships’ foghorns to a flute evoking an ascending bird. The performances are also beautifully understated. George Evans and Katie Moore, as Jack and Carol, convince you they are a young married couple filled with the restless ache of desire, Howard Ward is all cheerful solidity as the age-conscious teacher and Henry Everett conveys the fretful hurry of the wrecked pilot. At a time when much new drama offers a sensory assault, Holman seizes your attention through stealth." Michael Billington, Guardian Read the full review

★★★★ "Robert Holman’s best-known play is called Making Noise Quietly, and its title sums up his restrained approach to articulating powerful feelings. German Skerries, which hasn’t been staged since its 1977 premiere, is a typically watchful piece about buried emotion and self-discovery...

Alice Hamilton’s production accentuates the writing’s surreal humour, while also savouring its moments of dreamy escapism. Howard Ward brings low-key gravitas to Martin, George Evans nicely suggests both Jack’s lack of confidence and his natural charm, and Katie Moore captures Carol’s mix of optimism and defiant practicality. Above all Holman’s voice is given space to breathe, and a play that could feel modestly wistful instead seems charged with mystery."
Henry Hitchings, Evening Standard  Read the full review

★★★★ "A still, beautiful forgotten classic from the underrated Robert Holman... Director Alice Hamilton – who’s previously staged the work of Barney Norris, another thoughtful chronicler of the sad detail of everyday lives – brings a hushed timelessness to Holman’s words. Silence speaks volumes here, with the fluttering of fluted bird song bringing a kind of serenity to a production where the actors – performing in the round – look outwards.

The performances match the low-key pitch. Evans brings an effectively jittery quality to Jack, while Moore makes Carol as strong as the land on which he sits and daydreams. Ward, meanwhile, imbues Martin with a fussiness tempered with openness. Here, as is often the case with Holman, distance is bridged by conversation – small kindnesses breaking through the loss." Tom Wicker, Time Out Read the full review    

★★★★ "Robert Holman's reputation is being restored. Since the Donmar Warehouse revived Making Noise Quietly four years ago, a new generation has picked up his plays - mostly quiet, pensive still-lifes - and found in them tenderness and truthfulness. German Skerries, revived by director Alice Hamilton and playwright Barney Norris, is no exception...

Tonally, it has something of an old Ken Loach film - the sort that tracks a flock of starlings on a grey sky. You breath in the Teeside landscape, rugged and exposed, and Hamilton's production lets you feel the wind's chill and the sun's warmth.

James Perkins' patch of grass is near-perfect, with its worn path and lose pebbles, tufts and tyres. You slip into the setting quite easily, as if a chunk of coastline had landed, asteroid-like, in the middle of Richmond. Simon Gethin Thomas catches the light eloquently. When a cormorant performs a fly-by, a trill of woodwind catches its flight. It's beautifully acted all-round, with small actions speaking volumes: Moore's silent generosity, picking the grass off her husband's back; Evans' head-first bluster, snatching his jacket back for a fag; Ward's sage shrug that sees the way the world's heading, but knows how powerless we are to stop it." Matt Trueman, Whatonstage