Carry on Jaywick @ NAC

First posted on March 16, 2018

A new verbatim play made up entirely of the words of real people, Carry on Jaywick is a story of hope amongst the hopeless, of laughter in the darkest times and a celebration of what it means to fight for where you come from.

The hell is verbatim theatre?

Verbatim theatre is made by taking the exact words of real people and collating it into a performance piece. Not a written play but an assembled or curated one.

I guess it’s different from documentary works that play recordings straight to the audience, like we saw with Kings Cross Revisited where Tom Marshman lipsynced to his interviewee’s audio.

The four actors had earphones in playing the recorded words of local residents as they repeated them to us. It was a fresh experience hearing the natural stumbling and mistakes of unscripted speech come from a stage. But it’s not just a novelty; its a tool and one well used.

In his introduction, the writer Dan Murphy describes how he recorded 500 hours of audio over two years to build a picture of the resort town he visited as a child. A different representation of the town compared to Channel 5’s “Jaywick – Benefits by the Sea.”

There is a moral responsibility to consider when representing real life on stage and I have endeavored to uphold this. Although the play uses the real words of people it is also a piece of drama.” – Dan Murphy, on leaflet handed out at the show

So I’ll try to bear that in mind. These are real words but someone has chosen which words we hear and how much time they are given.

The Performance

The show starts and ends with the recorded voice of a resident and eases you into the words being repeated by the performers. You quickly forget that these are real interviews as the narrative draws you in. Vignettes build a picture of Jaywick and if one scene isn’t engaging then it will soon be replaced. Some bits provide interesting contrasts like the old lady talking about how much there is to do (church, craft club, line dancing, bingo) and later teens talk about how there is nothing to do (walk the sea wall to mcdonalds and then be in mcdonalds).

The cast of four switched regularly switched between characters and had to show this with voice and mannerisms alone, as there were no costume changes. Teenagers, retirees, mums, EDL supporters (they are part of the community), shop keepers, councilors, line dancers. All four showed impressive range to their accents  Mathew Wernham brought the most physicality to his characters. His lanky frame leaning into partners or hunching as an old man (that did hit caricature in places).

It’s lively and intimate in places. A few dance numbers and nice little bits of staging. There was a wheeled clothes rack rolled around as a frame of sit down interviews then as a wall to post flyers on. It was clear when people were being interviewed in their homes and not just because tesco delivery arrived. There was a familiarity with which we, the audience, were addressed. Maybe because Murphy had spent so long getting to know his subjects. They spoke so candidly and fondly of their home town.

The set itself was brightly coloured and full of tat. Plastic windmills, brightly painted pallets, and a strand of LEDs used for a joke at the end. At the back was chalkboard, used by the inactive players to write the location people were speaking from. A handy tool.

There’s not much negative to say. It took a little time to get into but I can’t think of a better place to start than a community meeting.

I thought the man playing cheerleader with a surly expression was a cheap joke (It’s overdone. I’m not going to laugh the hundredth time I see the joke) but it got laughs. It was also quiet in places. A couple of times I could hear the whispering of the earbuds. There were a couple of times music was used but no sounds of the sea or of busy rooms. There must have been a wealth of field recordings gathered but not used.

Jaywick’s got talent

Some people’s stories show up more than once. The gay couple, the estate agent, and the quickly dissolving action committee. Jonny Sloggett is the closest thing to a main character the show has, other than the town itself. Over and over it returns to him publicising and running a talent contest for the town; to bring Jaywick together and to reciprocate the love it has given him.

Near the end of the show it comes time for JGT and it’s declared a success. More people show up than can fit in the building and we in the audience have to stand for a Clive Keene as 10 year old girl’s rendition of God Save the Queen on the trumpet.

I’d find it hard to believe Sloggett exists if I hadn’t found his youtube page. The  shouting, the enthusiasm, and the constant filming himself on the phone. On the day of the performance (14.03.18) he uploaded 10 videos, one a repeat. Wernham did a great job bringing Sloggett’s exuberance and overly-friendly movements to life.

Oh jeez he has a twitter.

How was it to watch?

I went from not knowing Jaywick existed to caring about it and it’s residents. Very much worth leaving the house for.

It was sweet. A love letter written by a hundred people. It wasn’t all positive and rightly so. The young people talking about the lack of employment opportunities or futures were a little heart breaking.

As nice as it was to see the people come together against the label of “Most deprived in England 2010 and it received the title again in 2015. It was mentioned near the end of the play that luck had saved them from flooding a few years back but it could happen at anytime.

I went from not knowing Jaywick existed to caring about it and it’s residents. Very much worth leaving the house for.

I’m not sure I’m going to watch the benefits by the sea program. I’m not into voyeuristic TV. Carry on Jaywick is not voyeuristic. Its empathetic.


Worth the price of admission and a neat introduction to a new type of performance.

Carry on Jaywick is currently on tour around the UK

NAC listing