Tag Archives: Tom Taplin

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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Elephant Steps – 4 Stars


Elephant Steps

Arcola Theatre

Reviewed – 20th August 2018


“Kennedy has created something quite spectacular. His directorial decisions are often as surreal as the source material.”


Grimeborn is the annual East London opera festival which coincides with the world-famous Glyndebourne Festival. Founded by Mehmet Ergen in 2007, the festival held at the Arcola Theatre is considered a dynamic alternative to the traditional ‘summer season’. And, try as you might, I’m pretty sure you can’t get more ‘alternative’ than “Elephant Steps”. Written fifty years ago by Grammy winning and Tony nominated composer Stanley Silverman and American avant garde pioneer Richard Foreman, this show still feels outlandishly experimental.

Aptly subtitled ‘A Fearful Radio Show’, it is like randomly turning the dial of an old transistor radio. An eclectic (aka ‘chaotic’) cruise through a mix of renaissance, ragtime and rock; picking up on its way scraps of madrigal, tribal and incidental; a pinch of electronica and a nod to the Beatles and Bernstein. Oh, and Stockhausen, Kirchner, John Cage and Frank Zappa and… you get the idea.

The plot is as strange as the music. I’m often sceptical about programme notes that try to shape an audience’s interpretation of the show, but in this case, director Patrick Kennedy’s advice is spot on: “don’t try to understand”. At just over an hour long, it is as futile to waste time working out what is going on as it is to attempt to interpret dreams. The trick is to enjoy the limitless possibilities. And with his top-notch cast of eight blending the beauty of opera with the grit of rock, supported by a ten-piece band playing twice that number of instruments; Kennedy has created something quite spectacular. His directorial decisions are often as surreal as the source material. But like the source material, there is no real theme throughout – musically and textually. Without a solid frame, it is all too easy to lose focus, and interest. The score shifts from harmony to discord in a beat; from the relative accessibility of the pop and rock numbers to the atonal dissonance of the more unusual songs. And in between is the whole gamut of modern music.

Perhaps there is too much variety. It is very much a lucky dip, but if you keep turning the radio dial you will undoubtedly come across a station that appeals to your taste. This is a show that is in equal parts genius yet maddening too. It requires a stretch of the imagination but stretches your patience. It is exhilarating and powerful, but underlying it is a whiff of ‘the emperor’s new clothes’ and we occasionally wonder if we are being taken for a ride. Perhaps the cacophony of thoughts it leaves you with is intentional. Whatever the answer, and I suspect there is none, it is a quite unmissable production. Especially as each performance in this all too short run at the Arcola is followed by the chance to meet the composer Stanley Silverman in person.


Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Alessia Chinazzo 


Elephant Steps

Arcola Theatre until 22nd August


Other Grimeborn shows reviewed
The Rape of Lucretia | ★★★★ | July 2018
Greek | ★★★★ | August 2018


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