Dodgy landlords, rising rents and gentrification – the sort of headlines you expect to read in the pages of the Evening Standard, rather than on the coast of Cornwall. But the key strength of Henry Darke's debut play, Booby's Bay, is in showing that these issues are not located exclusively in London's zones 2 or 3, but can be keenly felt further afield. In this case, they're found in the titular West Country beauty spot, where properties are being snatched up by Barbour jacket-sporting Londoners with money to burn and a penchant for rustic charm. And, as these city-dwelling metropoles arrive, it's the locals who suffer.
Not, that is, if central character Huck (Oliver Bennet), a bearded and free-spirited lifelong Cornwall citizen, can do anything about it. To the disdain of his landlord mother Liz (Esther Coles), on/off flame Jeanie (Florence Roberts) and macho surfer best friend Daz (Bradley Taylor), Huck begins a one-man crusade against the incoming tide of wealthy renters, fighting the oppression – "I'm like an aborigine woman", he says, "destroyed by the white man's grog". Squatting in an unused house and summoning local journalists, the 30-something wastrel plans to raise a media storm and highlight the plight of working-class Cornish people.
It's an intriguing and anarchic opening for a show that, sadly, gets mired in other sub-plots; an absent brother, an unexpected pregnancy and a paternity question that distract from Darke's main concept. The journalist has an alcohol problem, while Daz is on the verge of a doping scandal. Sometimes it all feels more like a soap than a social commentary.
Darke leaves so many tantalising threads underdeveloped – Huck's mother Liz, a supposed betrayer to the cause by renting out properties to the rich London elite, could be an intricate and antagonistic figure in her son's life, but instead has to settle for being an erratic and cocktail-slurping Emcee during a slightly unconvincing surfing competition. The female characters, for the most part, seem to be given far less to do – Roberts has the thankless task of multi-rolling as Huck's two amorous flings, with only a jacket to distinguish between them.
Paul Burgess' nautical set does a lot of things right – littered with flotsam and jetsam, the scent of fried mackerel (from a functioning oven) transporting us from Earls Court and out onto the coast. Performances are solid, carrying the zaniness and local flavour of Darke's text and showing that this is an issue he truly cares about.
But it feels as though the show, just like Booby's Bay, suffers from a crisis of identity. Director Chris White bounces between naturalistic scenes and some shaky physical interludes that never feel tightly choreographed, and the two never seem to sit well together. All signs in the piece point to a writer with an important story to tell, but Darke never seems to make his argument without it being submerged in an unconvincing family drama.
Booby's Bay runs at Finborough Theatre until 24 February.