This recounting of the 1914-1917 Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, or most of it (it stops short of seeing the entire rescue mission following the famous loss of the ship Endurance through to the very end) could well be criticised for not giving enough attention to all of the twenty-eight men who were part of the expedition. But consider the show’s title, Shackleton and His Stowaway, and the play’s content is commensurate with its name. Suspending one’s disbelief (and any and all prior knowledge of the famous expedition) at the theatre doors, the penny drops fairly quickly that Shackleton (Richard Ede) and The Stowaway (Elliott Ross), were going to make it out of this triumph over adversity story shaken and forever changed, but alive.
The Stowaway had an actual name, Perce Blackborow, though Shackleton (or, rather, the version of Shackleton portrayed in this production) preferred “idiot”, on account of Blackborow being an additional burden on the relatively meagre supplies on board Endurance, as well as his sheer inexperience at sea. It was the words attributed to another Antarctic explorer, Captain Lawrence Oates (1880-1912) that came to mind with Shackleton’s steely demeanour: “I am just going outside and may be some time.” Shackleton as portrayed here certainly had the British stiff upper lip about him – in stark contrast to Blackborow’s outwardly expressed concerns, the explorer was keen to remain calm. I can understand retaining one’s cool – after all, what would losing it really achieve?
There are some attempts at staging some key events in the expedition, as well as some good video projections (Enrique Muñoz Jimenez) but for the most part the production relies heavily on exposition, with plenty of descriptions. While the production makes good use of the available performance space, there are moments when sections of the audience are unable (without swivelling around) to see where either of the characters are narrating from.
It’s a very bold thing to plunge a theatre into complete darkness – something this production avoids, even in the deep recesses of the ‘polar night’ (the opposite of the ‘midnight sun’), but I wonder if the show has missed a trick in not doing so, if only for a short time. That said, there is a palpable sense of just how cold it is, even when not exposed to the elements, and rather like those people who never seem to run out of energy to tell how exhausted they are, it’s never seems to be too cold for the stowaway to periodically point it out. This rankles Shackleton, whose irritation with his companion is a subtle source of comic relief for the audience from the relentless dangers of the expedition.
At times it is a slow and steady production. This goes well with the narrative – there were times when all they seemed to do was eat, sleep and sail – but it doesn’t always make for good theatre, and the show could have been condensed down to one act. The tension and sense of foreboding is somewhat broken by the interval and takes a little while to regain in the second half. The show isn’t exactly left adrift (so to speak) but this valiant effort could do with some tightening up.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Shackleton and his Stowaway 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. 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.
Shackleton and his Stowaway was written by Andy Dickinson. Andy has produced for the Olivier Award winning playwrights Grae Cleugh and Jack Shepherd. Simone Coxall, theatre and movement director, has directed The Tempest, Vinegar Tom, Orpheus and Eurydice, Don Juan Comes Back from The War, and Our Country’s Good, amongst various other productions in London. Richard Ede, whose credits include playing the lead in a UK Tour of The 39 Steps, will be playing the role of Shackleton. Elliott Ross, who has appeared in Queen Anne and Love for Love with the RSC and Admissions in the West End, will be playing the role of The Stowaway.
Stolen Elephant Theatre in association with Park Theatre present
Shackleton and his Stowaway
By Andy Dickinson
Directed by Simone Coxall
Cast Includes: Richard Ede & Elliott Ross
Plays: 8 Jan – 1 Feb 2020