Can a play about a gay early twentieth century fisheries pioneer, who died in the Spanish flu epidemic, resonate in these times of the Covid-19 virus?
Sidmouth Sea Fest believes it can. A new radio play, ‘Fish Out of Water’, about Stephen Reynolds, will be premiering on Saturday 16 May at 4pm. This date is also the anniversary of Reynolds’s birth.
With its exploration of themes of acceptance, homosexuality, belonging, class, perils of the fishing industry and a life cut short by a virus, the play has a contemporary resonance.
Reynolds’ experience of life and friendship with the Sidmouth fishing family the Woolleys, and his later influence on safety at sea are extraordinary.
Reynolds died of Spanish flu on Valentine’s Day February 14th 1919. Reynolds life was cut short when the flu became pneumonia, a development, that according to his friends, was compounded by overwork as Inspector of Fisheries for the south-western area during the First World War.
The play was originally co-written by Pippa Marriott and David Lloyd, who lives in Sidmouth, for Sea Fest 2019. The story was brought to life by a community ensemble celebrating diversity, and told with humour, song and personal testimony. Sea Fest organisers wanted to widen the reach of this local heritage tale.
Louise Cole, Director of Sidmouth Coastal Community Hub, says:
“The play was to have been broadcast at Sea Fest in May as part of an audio installation, but because of Covid-19 we cannot host the event this year.
“There is laughter, song and a great poignancy in the play which opens with Stephens’ death – none of us could have known what a mirror the play would hold up to our current times. We hope it will be enjoyed and will entertain but maybe too that it may usefully give people a moment to reflect as they listen. It seems fitting that radio is the genre.”
Pippa Marriott commented:
“Creating this play has been such a positive community effort. Working with a predominantly older cast with widely differing levels of acting experience was a pleasurable challenge, and the authenticity of their Sidmouth voices is really apparent in the play. The convivial spirit of the ensemble has exemplified so much of the good humour, kindness and ‘all in this together’ spirit which is helping to make the current Covid-19 crisis bearable.”
Sidmouth Sea Fest – the annual coastal community celebration – was to have kicked-off the local festival season on Saturday 16 May. Instead the festival organisers have decided to create an online presence and a radio broadcast which can be heard on Phonic FM, Sid Valley Radio and Three Valleys Radio in Yeovil.
Image credit: Sidmouth Museum.