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Tales from Norfolk’s salt marshes go from page to stage

PUBLISHED: 16:15 18 April 2018 | UPDATED: 16:15 18 April 2018

Stage play of Salt is touring Norfolk. Photo: fEast Theatre

Stage play of Salt is touring Norfolk. Photo: fEast Theatre

Archant

A childhood spent amid Norfolk creeks and salt marshes inspired Jeremy Page’s acclaimed novel Salt. Now it has been turned into a stage play by theatre company fEAST, who specialise in local stories, opening in Norwich and touring venues across the county.

Stage play of Salt is touring Norfolk. Photo: fEast TheatreStage play of Salt is touring Norfolk. Photo: fEast Theatre

Childhood memories and the mysteries of the unique creeks and salt marshes of north Norfolk were the inspiration for Jeremy Page’s acclaimed novel Salt.

“The edge of Norfolk is a particularly intriguing one — the marshes are muddy, salty, with odd plants and wildlife, strange tidal flows, you often can’t see the sea but can hear it — it seems to be made of contradictions,” he explains of the sense of place that made the novel so successful. “Ultimately it reflects the characters that live there. Norfolk’s known for the eccentrics who’ve washed up on its beaches.”

Now the story has been turned into a stage play by the acclaimed Norfolk theatre company fEAST that specialise in stories with a strong regional.

Set across four decades, from the 1940s-80s, Salt is a funny and tragic play with live music, which has been adapted from the book by Robin Mcloughlin.

Stage play of Salt is touring Norfolk. Photo: fEast TheatreStage play of Salt is touring Norfolk. Photo: fEast Theatre

The story revolves around Pip Langore as he tries to make sense of his family’s odd and troublesome history.

In Morston in 1944 his Grandmother ‘Goose’ rescues a German airman buried up to his neck in the marsh. Nine months later the German vanishes in a makeshift boat, leaving Goose with a newborn daughter, Lil. Taught to read the clouds by her mother, Lil is a strange child. When she becomes the object of two brothers’ desire, her life takes a tragic turn.

As he comes of age, can Pip avoid the family’s marsh-fever and find happiness or will he, too, lose himself in Norfolk’s wetlands?

The show opens at The Garage in Norwich on April 20 and 21 before a tour running until May that will be making stops in theatres and village halls throughout the county.

Jeremy Page who wrote the book Salt set in North Norfolk. Photo: Antony CarrollJeremy Page who wrote the book Salt set in North Norfolk. Photo: Antony Carroll

Jeremy Page will be joining the cast of a new stage adaptation in Norwich for the April 21 performance to take part in a question and answer session along with the director, Dawn Finnerty, the adaptor, Robin McLoughlin, and the actors who are bringing his characters to life.

Growing up in West Runton, the author, who attended Cromer High School and Paston College in North Walsham, was inspired to write the novel, first published in 2007, by his early years.

“After spending a childhood running about among the creeks of north Norfolk’s salt marshes, I always knew I would want to write about them,” he said. “Clearly, with all that on your doorstep, you take notice of it, and allow it to influence you.”

The Norwich Q&A performance will be a reunion for Mr Page with his former Paston teacher Rob John, who founded fEAST theatre and his old classmate Owen Evans, best known as one half of The Nimmo Twins, who plays creek-hopper Bryn Pugh in the production.

Salt by Jeremy Page. Photo: Archant LibrarySalt by Jeremy Page. Photo: Archant Library

The three last worked together at the Edinburgh festival in 1985.

Drawn to stories with a strong local flavour, fEast have previously enjoyed sell-out tours of The Canada Boys, based on the true story of a group of Colman’s mustard factory workers who moved to Canada, Parachute, about the relationship between an American airman and a local farming family, and Winter ’53, about a fictional Norfolk coastal village in the months leading up to the catastrophic floods of January 1953.

Robin McLoughlin, who has written the adaptation of Salt, admits taken someone else’s story from the page to the stage is a sensitive task.

He said: “To take someone else’s fully realised story and change the way it’s told isn’t an easy task, especially when the creator will be watching it.

Stage play of Salt is touring Norfolk. Photo: fEast TheatreStage play of Salt is touring Norfolk. Photo: fEast Theatre

Mr Page, however, is comfortable with seeing his creation in a new form: “It’s important to remember a novel has many other lives after it’s sent to print, as each new reader recasts and re-imagines it. The opportunity now to see it on stage is exciting. It’s another one of these extra lives, bringing with it new faces and new ways of telling the story.”

On its publication Salt was a finalist for both the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize and the Jeff First Novel Award, and a breakthrough success for the author who had previously taught creative writing at the UEA and worked as a scriptwriter and script editor of the BBC and Film Four. His subsequent novel The Wake also drew on the region being partly set in Suffolk and the North Sea.

His Norfolk childhood continue to inspire him. “I think to a large extent it formed me,” he explains. “Anyone who grows up next to the sea is faced with a frontier of sorts, between land and nothingness, and this continually challenges you. I fully appreciated this when I first moved away and lost the sea’s horizon — I felt pretty much without anchor then, away from the edge.”

The show’s cast includes a mix of new faces and fEast company regulars. Sam Thompson plays Pip Langore, Sally Blouet plays Goose, while Katie-Anna Whiting is Lil Mardler and Tom Girvin is George ‘Shrimp’ Langore.

Stage play of Salt is touring Norfolk. Photo: fEast TheatreStage play of Salt is touring Norfolk. Photo: fEast Theatre

• Salt opens at The Garage, Chapel Field North, Norwich, on April 20-21, 7.30pm, £15 (£8.50 cons), 01603 598646, thegarage.org.uk

• The tour continues to The Griffon Theatre, North Walsham (April 25); Hoveton Village Hall (April 26); Westacre Theatre (April 27); Sheringham Little Theatre (April 28); St George’s Theatre, Great Yarmouth (April 30); Aylsham Town Hall (May 1 and 2); Wells Maltings at Alderman Peel High (May 3); Cley Village Hall (May 4); and Sedgeford Village Hall (May 5).

• For ticket and venue information visit feasttheatre.com

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