Welcome to The Edge of the Land by Alan Franks. Any play that couples a woman’s search for the child she saw adopted when she was too young with a series of thoughts about flood defence might sound as if it needs some explanation, although this intriguing play needs no gloss. Alan writes about the background to both these themes later in this programme, but I want to tell you about the details of this production’s genesis from our point of view.
Alan first sent me a copy of this play in 1998 after seeing our production of The Bluethroat by Tony Ramsay, a play set within the marshy terrain between the land and the sea. I pointed out to Alan then that his play explored rather too similar territory but suggested we meet and talk. Some two years later the play resurfaced at Playwrights East in Norwich and I gave it a workshop and rehearsed reading.
Five years later, and after several other people had read the play and indicated how much they liked the idea but somehow didn’t commit to it, I decided to take the plunge. Part of the attraction was not knowing then how I was going to do it.
After researching and writing The Wuffings I had begun to take a new view of the low-lying coast and estuaries of East Anglia and regard them as our most defining element, (a theme I continued to explore in Bone Harvest), not just because of their geography and the remarkable absence of any river of decent size to feed them, but because of their cultural effects. Together these were the open doors through which flooded the Angles and then the Danes, both of which races helped define our region, give it and our people their names, and probably provide some 75% of our gene pool. However, this open door, which we notice every time the north easterlies blow from the steppes of Russia, also provided access to the North Sea surge, which, exacerbated by the high spring tides, swept through with such devastation on the night of 31 January 1953. As a result, experts have spent the next 50 years arguing about how to deal with it the next time the watery intruder comes calling. Do we attempt to lock ourselves in behind walls and massive defences, or recognise that this is one intruder who will always find a weak link and merely crash in the harder, an idea that finds a parallel theme in this play? Some say the land should be used to soak it all up, which to their opponents is like expecting the carpet to absorb any flood. But this is maybe to continue the analogy a wave too far.
This, though, is the background to Alan’s play and the human and society parallels are what interested me in putting it on. For the story of Miriam and Billy bears something all of us can recognise.
I should give my thanks to the Maddermarket Theatre and the actors who helped work through the original script, to Playwrights East for financing that, and lastly to Alan for being such a pliable and receptive author to differing ideas and possibilities, as far from a flood defence wall as you could imagine.
Once again our thanks go to Ryan Insurance who are sponsoring this village hall tour. We hope for all our sakes that it will be many years before anyone is searching out their insurance policies as they listen to the weather forecast.