Shackleton and his Stowaway
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: