Park Theatre, London – until 29 February 2020
Love is the big theme of playwright James McDermott’s Time and Tide; unrequited, platonic and romantic. McDermott also deals with self-love – not in a narcissistic or creepy way. The text nudges people to be true to themselves and not to do what is expected, but what you really want. It’s also a coming out later in life story and a coming of age tale. It is also extremely funny, with plenty of smart wise-cracks from the main characters.
We meet May, played authentically by Wendy Nottingham, the owner of a café in which Time and Tide is set, dancing around to Frank Sinatra’s ‘New York, New York’. She is celebrating her plan to close the café and move in with her lover, referred to as her friend. May is a mentor to Josh Barrow’s conflicted Nemo, a young man who waited tables at her café, and is now leaving their small town in Norfolk to go to University. When Nemo comments, that his Nan has given him a rape alarm to protect him as “London’s full of dirty men”, Nemo’s retort is sharp and funny: “I hope so; Norfolk isn’t.”
The dialogue between May and Nemo has a call and response rhythm to it, reflecting their loving friendship and how well they know each other. May has a penchant for quoting lines from Bette Davis films, which she has instilled in Nemo along with her love of artists such as Sinatra.
She enjoys telling Nemo stories about her encounters with famous people. May claims that when she was 17, Bette came backstage, after she saw May dancing at the Pier’s Summer Special in 1979. May recounts how they had a lot in common as they were: “both glamorous, both gutsy. She phoned me every week ‘til she died she did. Bit much to be honest.” Yet another hilarious throwaway line.
However all is not as it seems, May is on the brink of selling her café but is struggling to decide whether to leave and move in with her ‘friend’ or whether to stay and keep the café open. May along with the earnest Ken, played by Paul Easom, who owns the bakery, are probably the last two independent businesses on the high street.
All around them shops are boarded up and housing developments being built, with the multi-national chains such as Pret and Nandos encroaching. Easom is lovely as Ken. He has a fantastic monologue on how local businesses need to change to compete with chains, which is amusing, but also very current: “Mister and Missus Public want flat whites not flat pop. Peri-Peri butterfly burgers and grilled halloumi not salmonella and yesterday’s chips… You think I always sold brown baps and granary torpedoes… I saw which way wind were blowing when Greggs opened in town and I changed my stock. Folk just gotta change what they sell instead of selling up.”
In the meantime Ken has unrequited romantic feelings for May, and doesn’t realise that May is a lesbian, although May is aware that Ken is pining for her, it is bittersweet to see Ken’s overtures to May, which she neatly side steps. Nemo, labelled as the only gay in town, has unrequited love for his best friend Daz, played by Elliot Liburd with the bravado and macho quality of a young man who is in denial about his own sexuality.
James McDermott’s naturalistic and funny script is made socially realistic by the brilliant cast. Initially the characters go about their daily tasks with these matters rumbling just under the surface. They discuss routine matters, from their work to tv programmes as most people do, without addressing what they really feel. Misunderstandings, arguments and a hook up occurs.
The events that unfold over the course of the day are funny and poignant. Although Time and Tide ends on a hopeful note, it is not sickly sweet. The characters’ coming out and coming of age stories are grounded in the joys and disappointments of real life. The ending is just right for the characters.