Park Theatre, London – until 1 February 2020
Andy Dickinson’s play based on the true events of Shackleton’s 1914-1917 Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition is wonderfully presented but is lacking in purpose to be completely satisfying.
A story of courage, survival and endurance, there is much to amaze in this recounting of Ernest Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Atlantic Expedition. Vividly described through the poetic language used effectively by Andy Dickinson, while Simone Coxwell’s production brilliantly brings it all to life, it is a story that highlights the power of perseverance.
But there are some flaws. While the play highlights some of the many treacherous incidents on this ill-fated voyage including when the ship Endurance gets stuck in an ice pack forcing the crew to disembark and survive under horrendous conditions, the way in which everything is literally described to the audience means that the play has a tendency to feel like a series of incidents as opposed to a coherent story – particularly with the abruptness of scene changes. It is a fascinating story but there is nothing to keep driving it forward, which can mean that it comes across as slightly repetitive in places.
This being said, what Shackleton and His Stowaway does do is show how being caught up in a situation such as this can bring people together – with the relationship between Shackleton and the Stowaway initially fractious and brusque (particularly on Shackleton’s side) gradually beings to thaw out and warm.
Through Coxall’s atmospheric and imaginatively presented production, the audience really feel as though they are at the heart of the action thanks to Enrique Muñoz Jimenez’s delicately beautiful video projections and Pablo Baz’s evocative use of lighting. Overall, it is a nicely paced production, but it is all too easy for the mind to wonder in the quieter moments of the show – particularly when both characters are trying to conserve their strength and not much is happening.
Much of the intensity of Shackleton and His Stowaway comes from the two nicely contrasting performances from Richard Ede as Shackleton and Elliott Ross as The Stowaway. Between them, they are able to highlight both The Stowaway’s naiviety in jumping onboard and becoming a part of the expedition, while Shackleton’s stubbornness with regards to being convinced that he will achieve what no-one else has – until its too late. Both characters are changed irrevocably by the experience. Ross in particular captures The Stowaway’s increasing maturity in the way in which he gradually begins to contradict Shackleton’s orders – adding some nice touches of humour along the way.
Overall, it feels as though this is a story that could have been condensed down a bit more to make it stronger and more effective. But there is no denying that it is a story that deserves to be told – thanks to two engaging performances at the centre of this production.