It is a fine balancing act transferring the mood and characters from a book to the stage. We each have an individual appreciation of what is going on in the book but, on stage, we rely on the director and cast to visualise the story for us.
So the years spent by Robin McLoughlin adapting Jeremy Page’s atmospheric novel Salt for the stage were not wasted if the performances in Aylsham were anything to go by.
And the direction by Dawn Finnerty ably set up the mood of isolation in a turbulent north Norfolk landscape which shapes the lives of three generations of one family as they struggle for survival in the wetlands – that wilderness between the land and the sea.
The tragi-comic story is told through the eyes of their youngest member, Pip, played by Sam Thompson, who talks us through four decades of blood, smoke, mud, tears and fish.
The show begins in Morston, in 1944. Pip’s grandmother ‘Goose’ (Sally Blouet) rescues a German airman buried up to his neck in the marsh. Nine months later the German vanishes in a makeshift boat, leaving Goose with a new-born daughter, Lil.
Lil (Katie-anna Whiting) grows up from a strange child to the object of two brothers’ desire, and that’s when her life takes a tragic turn.
The brothers, played by Robin McLoughlin and Tom Girvin, fill the narrative gaps with humour as well as a deep sense of foreboding.
Blustering throughout the tale is Owen Evans as Bryn Pugh, a Falstaff character who acts as minder, friend and mentor to the family.
There are many “gaps in time” as we pass through the decades and some of these transition points are confusing like when the young lovers banish themselves to the Fens to escape the opprobrium of the community before their illegitimate baby is born.
But it is the beauty of the Norfolk dialect and mannerisms, which are effortlessly displayed here by the mostly home-grown cast, and the many references to local place names which give the production a powerful sense of place and time.
It would be hard to single out any one actor as each fulfilled their roles impeccably especially as they were up against some exacting minimalist props – mainly wooden crates and half a broken boat.
If anything is, then the star of the show is that bootiful, gloriously open, mystical but unforgiving patch of land where folk dew dif’runt.