Overfishing killed off the herring industry 50 years ago; the huge shoals never returned: a civilisation, you might say, gone with the tide.
The play evokes the real tragedy of Black Friday, October 1881: 45 boats set out; 20 were dashed on the rocks in view of daughters, wives and mothers – and tells the women’s story.
And what women. Herring gutting crews – two gutters, one packer –travelled Eastern Britain, forming life-long friendships.
Get up and tie your fingers – with strips of cloth against gutting knives and pickling salts – roused them from beds as the fleet came in.
They were a tough breed, ‘fishwives’ on a par with their fishermen, marketing their own share of the catch.
Ann Coburn’s kitchen-sink realism using fisherfolk words like ‘ganseys’ is shot through with poetry and myth – the northern lights as emblem of the Scotswomen’s dreams – and the acting strong with sustained yet never sentimental emotion.
Jean (Barbara Marten) is the waspish OCD house-cleaning mother hiding a tender heart broken by loss; Molly (Samantha Foley), her attractively flouncing daughter craves adventure on the herring trail the way a modern daughter wants to be a pop star and Janet (Sian Mannifield), the life-affirming widow who ultimately prevails upon Jean to let her daughter go.
Music is provided by the host port at each gig and Lynn’s own excellent Purfleet Singers, ably directed by Karen Wimshurst, do justice to the haunting beauty of the music. True’s Yard contributed to the impressive exhibition.