The Shell Seekers

CAROLINE CULOT Norwich Theatre Royal

CAROLINE CULOT

Thank-you for bringing sunlight into an October garden. It's a line from last night's emotion-charged adaptation of Rosamunde Pilcher's best-selling novel which is a must for all romantics. When spoken at the end by Penelope (Stephanie Cole) she is paying tribute to a young couple who brought happiness into the autumn of her life.

And it's just what the Shell Seekers itself did – brought sunlight into the hearts of an October audience. It's a nostalgic and romantic tale of a woman reaching the end of her life and faced with a family who can only squabble over their hopes for a good inheritance. Cleverly told in flashbacks, we learn about Penelope's life and loves.

Pilcher herself grew up in Cornwall and this location is where Penelope also grows up and falls in love. The sun and the sea are euphemisms for her emotions – as she says, you "wait for the wave to hit you and then wash over you."

Last night's performance was truly moving with Stephanie Cole, whom we all love from television's Tenko and Waiting for God, mesmerising as Penelope. The actress' real talent lies in her understated approach and when you watch her you are, for the entire 2 hours 15 minutes performance, absolutely riveted.

She is supported by a marvellous cast with Karen Drury (who played the long-suffering wife of Max Farnham, Susannah, in Brookside) perfectly cast as the glamorous, self-centred daughter Olivia. Veronica Roberts also excels as the selfish, domineering daughter Nancy.

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The emotion comes through a brilliant script but also from some heart-tugging music reminiscent of that wonderful score to the movie Out of Africa. Meanwhile subtle use of lighting helps creates the feel of the hot sun and sand of Cornwall at other times the darkness of despair.

A minimalist set ingeniously sets backdrops in huge picture frames with pictures being a major theme. The Shell Seekers is a moving, poignant tale which is thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish – only remember to take a hankie as the tears do fall at the end.

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