Big Big Sky (Hampstead Theatre Downstairs)

Posted: August 6, 2021 in Theatre

Writer: Tom Wells

Director: Tessa Walker


For anyone who has not yet booked their 2021 staycation, it could be useful to note that Kilnsea is a small town on the East Yorkshire coast, near Hull. It is the home town of writer Tom Wells and the setting for his new play Big Big Sky which paints a picture of it as a place of tranquility, in harmony with the natural world. Even rare birds think it worthwhile to stop by here twice a year as they migrate north or south.

The 90-minute one-act play is the antithesis of an action thriller. It is almost entirely character-driven and it contradicts its title by being about small small things. This is exemplified in director Tessa Walker’s carefully detailed production by characters fussily repositioning furniture and moving signage on and off set, over and over again. Little things mean a lot in Kilnsea, small cogs make the bigger wheels turn.

The action (or perhaps inaction) unfolds in a seaside café, represented by designer Bob Bailey’s beautifully observed pale blue set. It is run by Angie and the much younger Lauren, whose dad, Dennis hangs around at the end of each day in the hope of picking up free meals from leftovers. It is end of season and the café will soon close for Winter, maybe never to reopen in the face of competition from a new development in the town centre.

The arrival of Ed, a geeky ornithologist and conservationist from the Black Country, shakes things up a little. He settles in to enjoy vegan brownies with mint tea, takes a job as “Tern Warden” and quickly forms a romantic relationship with Lauren. All four characters are grieving: Dennis for his wife, Lauren and Ed for their mothers and Angie for a lost child. Continuity of life in all its forms is a strong theme running through Wells’ writing.

The play’s men are clumsy, tactless beasts and its women pull the strings that make things work. Sam Newton grasps at every opportunity to exploit the comic potential of Ed’s nervous awkwardness, while Matt Sutton gives Dennis the air of a lost soul, always striving to do well, but invariably putting his foot in it. In contrast, Jennifer Daley’s Angie is a rock, overcoming personal loss to spread warmth to others, and Jessica Jolleys’ vibrant and youthfully optimistic Lauren is a pillar of common sense.

Lovingly written and performed, Wells’ heartwarming play brings an oasis of calm to the bustle of North London. It reminds us that simple things matter most, where there is loss there is renewal and where there is life there is hope.

Performance date: 5 September 2021

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