Tag Archives: Edward Cartwright

Shackleton and his Stowaway

Cervantes Theatre

Shackleton and his Stowaway

Shackleton and his Stowaway

Cervantes Theatre

Reviewed – 23rd April 2019



“has so much potential, but sadly, in many ways, is left adrift”


Adventures to unexplored lands, crossing ferocious seas, battling snowstorms, escaping death – the Endeavour expedition to the Antarctic in 1914 should be a thrilling story to tell. However, Stolen Elephant Theatre’s current production, Shackleton and His Stowaway loses any possible edge-of your-seat moments, providing a colourless and bland take on the heroic tale.

Setting off from Buenos Aires, revered explorer Ernest Shackleton is ready to lead his new expedition through the Antarctic on the apt-named ship the Endeavour. Soon after casting off, an eighteen year old Welsh stowaway is found hiding within the bows. Shackleton takes a shining to the lad and before long drums up a friendship between them. However, the stowaway’s admiration for the great explorer begins to dissolve as Shackleton’s poor judgement call leads to the Endeavour being trapped in the polar ice pack, eventually breaking up and sinking. Stranded in unimaginable freezing temperatures, the newly formed friendship is put under strain as the need to survive takes precedence.

The biggest let down of the production is the writing, which feels as lost in the wilderness as its subject matter. Often stagnant, it lacks much action – most of the exciting parts of the expedition being described in past tense by the characters, rather than actually performed. The modern, colloquial language jars with its 1914-1916 time period, often making you question the play’s believability. Much doubt is also thrown at the authenticity of Shackleton and the stowaway’s relationship that seems far too friendly and on a level footing, status-wise. By them being too pally too soon, writer Andy Dickinson gets stuck in the mud, not being able to display a progression in the characters’ friendship, with the play finishing on a rather flaccid note.

With their best efforts, actors Edward Cartwright (Shackleton) and Tom Taplin (The Stowaway) try to flesh out their characters as best they can. You certainly cannot fault their determination in trying to squeeze something juicy out of the otherwise lacklustre script. Taplin’s happy-go-lucky, wise cracking stowaway is the most compelling to watch, however, this is most likely helped by the fact that Taplin lucked out on having the better written character. Cartwright struggles through with the two-dimensional Shackleton, but ultimately is defeated by the shortcomings of the writing.

An element that did help to lift the production was director Enrique Muñoz’s use of visual effects, adding projections onto the walls and stage floor during transitional scenes. Maps of the colossal journey through the Antarctic, as well as photographs from the actual expedition, offer proof in how courageous all the men were.

Shackleton and His Stowaway has so much potential, but sadly, in many ways, is left adrift. The actors try to salvage what they can, but with some poor directional choices and the fundamental script being far from engaging enough, they are on a sinking ship (no pun intended). This epic tale becomes quite the epic fail.


Reviewed by Phoebe Cole

Photography courtesy Stolen Elephant Theatre



Shackleton and his Stowaway

Cervantes Theatre until 18th April


Previously reviewed at this venue:
The Little Pony | ★★★★ | June 2018
Ay, Carmela! | ★★★ | September 2018
Yerma | ★★ | November 2018


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The Trench – 3 Stars


The Trench

Southwark Playhouse

Reviewed – 16th October 2018


“a slick, impressive show, so long as you don’t dig too deep”


As the only tunneller awarded a Victoria Cross in the First World War, William Hackett provides inspiration, storyline and main character (renamed Bert) for this play by Oliver Lansley. Despite his heart condition, Hackett enlisted in late 1915. A few months later he was denied leave to visit his 14-year-old son, who had lost a leg in a mining accident. Then, on 22nd June 1916, he was trapped underground with four comrades by a German mine blast. Over several days he helped rescue three but died going back for the last.

In this already cheerless saga, the amputation is replaced by news from home of a baby lost in childbirth, heightening perhaps Bert’s motivation to save his much younger colleague. To ramp up the melodrama further, the journey unfolds via a solid hour of iambic pentameter, spoken mostly by Bert (Lansley himself) as he scrapes and writhes through a claustrophobic set, aided by the multiple stage skills of Edward Cartwright, James Hastings and Kadell Herida, who play his comrades. The entombed ensemble is accompanied by the brooding presence stage left of the show’s composer Alexander Wolfe riffing dolefully on guitars, with sad melodies on sundry instruments occasionally aided by the multi-talented Hastings.

If this sounds unremittingly gloomy, it is. On the upside, The Trench is the work of Les Enfant Terribles, a theatre company with its own brand of showmanship and production design. Samuel Wyer provides an explosion of visual ideas and techniques, which provide the energy needed for an otherwise plodding tale. Shadow puppetry is used especially well to depict sepulchral columns of doomed troops; high tension wires and projections combine to create a cinematic overhead camera effect as Bert stumbles through the mire of the battlefield. The team also depicts the horrors that Bert encounters with a series of demonic puppets resembling the rotting carcasses of rats and horses, culminating in a red dragon, a reference to the Red Dragon crater by which the area is still known.

It’s hard to think what William Hackett would make of all this. Most likely he would enjoy the technical flair along with everyone else and may have recognised, too, the Music Hall style rhyming monologue, sustained from ‘A species on extinction’s brink’ all the way through to ‘The flickering flame of fate has faded’. Hackett might even have recognised Oliver Lansley’s actor-manager function but if so, probably wouldn’t have recognised himself. Hackett’s photos online suggest a less commanding figure than the one portrayed and a more vulnerable performance would have raised the emotional engagement hugely.

The glorification of WW1’s futile sacrifices can become a divisive subject especially at this time of year, but there’s no escaping that this is a slick, impressive show, so long as you don’t dig too deep.


Reviewed by Dominic Gettins

Photography by Rah Petherbridge


The Trench

Southwark Playhouse until 17th November


Previously reviewed at this venue:
Bananaman | ★★★ | January 2018
Pippin | ★★★★ | February 2018
Old Fools | ★★★★★ | March 2018
The Country Wife | ★★★ | April 2018
Confidence | ★★ | May 2018
The Rink | ★★★★ | May 2018
Why is the Sky Blue? | ★★★★★ | May 2018
Wasted | ★★★ | September 2018
The Sweet Science of Brusing | ★★★★ | October 2018


Click here to see more of our latest reviews on thespyinthestalls.com