Review: Shackleton and his Stowaway

3 star rating
Ernest Shackleton's doomed expedition to traverse the antarctic is brought to life in a technically accomplished, absorbing two-hander commendably recounting an astonishing achievement.
Shackleton and his Stowaway at Cervantes Theatre

Image: Cervantes Theatre



Closes here: Sunday 28 April 2019

Author:
Andy Dickinson

Composer:
Alex Burnett

Director:
Enrique Munoz

Cast:

Shackleton - Edward Cartwright

The Stowaway - Tom Taplin


Synopsis


'When disaster strikes and all hope is gone, get down on your knees and pray for Shackleton.'

Stolen Elephant Theatre are bringing their Sold Out Ed Fringe play 'Shackleton and his Stowaway' to London.


It is based on the real events of the legendary Endurance expedition to Antarctica.


It follows the misfortunes of an 18 year old stowaway who sneaks aboard Endurance.


Initially, the stowaway is in complete awe of Shackleton.


But this fades by the time Shackleton has gotten them trapped in the polar ice pack - even more so when Endurance actually breaks up and sinks.


This leaves them adrift on the ice, hundreds of miles from civilisation.


ActDrop reviews


Peter Brown

Performance date: Tuesday 23 April 2019
Review star rating image

Ernest Henry Shackleton (1874 to 1922) was an explorer during the 'Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration'.


He led 3 expeditions to the extremely hostile and unforgiving frozen wastes and perhaps is best remembered for the Imperial Trans-Atlantic Expedition (1914 to 1917) which aimed to make the first complete crossing of the Antarctic continent (the race to the South Pole having already been won by Roald Amundsen).


Shackleton's ship for this bold endeavour was to be Endurance - one of the strongest ships ever built when it was first launched and aptly named given the prolonged nature of the task which it was to undertake.


But the ship had an inherent weakness in that it had been built for strength rather than designed to offset the power of surrounding pack ice by being buoyant and the ship was crushed by ice in the Weddell Sea causing her to sink.


That left the expedition's team stranded in perhaps the most hostile environment on the planet - one that is difficult for most of us to even begin to imagine, let alone to comprehend.

Cast of Shackleton and his Stowaway - Edward Cartwright and Tom Taplin

Edward Cartwright as Shackleton (left) and Tom Taplin as Pierce Blackborow


In this two-hander, writer Andy Dickinson tell's the story of this adventurous and ill-fated journey through the interactions between Edward Cartwright's Shackleton and one Pierce Blackborow (played by Tom Taplin), an eighteen year-old who had originally been refused work on the expedition but who nonetheless crept on to the ship before departure, becoming a stowaway.


This play, then, is basically a duologue for the most part, though we find each of the individual characters delivering narrative by themselves on occasion which aids in providing variety in scenes.


Enrique Munoz's production impresses in the technical department, featuring animated maps projected onto the wooden floor of the acting area.


Otherwise, the Cervantes Theatre's ample stage is bare, though its built-in staircase helps to introduce a sense of different levels, especially during scenes on-board Endurance.


There are times, though, when some simple props would have helped inject more authentic interest into some of the more static scenes whilst at the same time providing the actors with something to busy themselves with during longer periods of narrative.


A simple stool or chair, a telescope or sextant or other items of the paraphernalia of ship-bound life would have embellished some scenes without imposing undue burdens on the actors, or detracting from the media aspects of the production.


Later in proceedings, we do find some of the huge gloves used in historical expeditions of this kind and Tom Taplin provides song, accompanying himself on banjo.


Alex Burnett's compositions neatly augment the production values adding plenty of atmosphere, as do sound effects of the unavoidable howling gales that almost make one shiver.


Tom Taplin's chipper and cheeky young character seems initially at odds when set against Edward Cartwright's determined and somewhat aloof Shackleton.


But the juxtaposition of these two very different personalities seems historically accurate (at least from my research) and though their traits jar initially, a more relaxed - and more believable - relationship develops as the play progresses.


Astonishingly, given the circumstances of this daring challenge, and to his monumental credit, Shackleton managed to bring back all his team alive (though 3 members in a supporting group died).


That extraordinary outcome says much about Shackleton's nature and capabilities as well as those of his company, well-reflected here in Andy Dickinson and Enrique Munoz's detailed and absorbing interpretation of one of the most audacious adventures in history.



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