Shackleton and His Stowaway presented by Stolen Elephant Theatre
What is it? Shackleton and His Stowaway is a two man retelling of the true story of Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton an Arctic explorer from the early 1900s.
What is it all about?
Shackleton is taking a dangerous expedition to the South Pole with 27 men. He discovers an 18 year old welshman stowed away on his ship, and this play is told from the perspective of their relationship as they battle the elements.
How did it make me feel?
Director Simone Coxall does a wonderful job of transporting us all to an early 20th century ship traversing half the world. A simple set made of boxes and ropes (Kaajel Patel) coupled with beautifully designed illustration from Enrique Muñoz Jimenez plus a constant subtle staggering from both actors is an effective combination to create the mammoth Ship Endurance in this small 90 seater. This is let down only slightly by the niggling annoyance that at no point do they wear any gloves despite the sub zero temperatures. The story of Shackleton’s expedition to the South Pole via most of the southern hemisphere is as action packed as it is relentless. It is an interesting decision from playwright Andy Dickinson to choose to write a play about a hero and hero-worshipper when that hero’s main character trait is British stoicism. The script does at times feel quite colonial, impressive as there is nothing to colonise on the South Pole, with Shackleton pressing on tirelessly in some personal journey to fill a hole only filled by being in −50° C cold (in one of his many monologues he pontificates on the fact that he is never truly alive unless he is in the arctic.) It feels as if Shackleton was someone Dickinson was asking us to aspire to, but his many personal flaws are never redeemed, rendering his character quite unlikeable. Richard Ede playing Shackleton does bring humour to the role but in general plays him as one note and it grows tiresome after the first forty minutes. It would serve the audience to have more emotion from Shackleton, to understand why he has such an affinity with arctic exploration or how his health issues affect him. The Stowaway played by Elliott Ross is a welcome relief to the frigid Shackleton. Despite his, at times, questionable Welsh accent he brought real warmth and emotion to the script and challenged the intellectual nature of Shackleton. A real stand out moment is the scene where the Stowaway tells Shackleton about visiting the circus with his mother, filled with unsaid pain and hope and backstory. If there is one thing that might be universal, it may be the way sons love their mothers. I would be very excited to see Ross perform in the future as I think with a more fleshed out script and more giving stage partner he would be real magic to watch.
The fundamental problem with Shackleton and His Stowaway is that the level of danger remains at a constant high throughout this 2 hour 20 minute performance. With no sense of high or low, no real emotional through line to hold on to or any modern day relevance it is at times difficult to remain engaged. This is remedied only by the exquisite design and a valiant performance from Elliot Ross.
Shackleton and His Stowaway is playing at The Park Theatre until the 1st February 2020.
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