Director: Niall Henry
Reviewer: David Keane
Just over 100 years ago, at the outbreak of the First World War, Anglo-Irish explorer Ernest Shackleton and his crew embarked on what was grandiosely named the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition. Shackleton and his men were not long into their journey when they encountered their first somewhat predicable problem; ice. In what would become a true test of human endurance they continued on their journey across the Antarctic when lesser, and possibly wiser, men would have turned back.
Blue Raincoat Theatre Company present Shackleton, an 80-minute performance piece that follows Shackleton and his crew from the beginning to end. Rather than focus on the individuals Blue Raincoat detail the crew’s journey and the battle they faced just to get through each day. In a magical combination of archival imagery, puppetry, sound, and performance the audience are escorted through the harshness of the Antarctic in a charming and mesmerising manner.
Niall Henry’s seamless direction ensures that every move, turn, and twist delivered by the ensemble cast progresses the story on its dreamlike journey. In a piece without any dialogue there is no room whatsoever for filler or compromise; here the performers carry much of the weight of the production as they embody the story itself and become enmeshed in the storytelling.
At first what appears to be a simple set reveals itself to be deeply layered and multifaceted. Jamie Vartan’s exquisite use of humble material is genius. It ties in perfectly with the paucity of supplies on such an expedition while being dexterous enough to become anything the imagination will allow. Sound and video design (Joe Hunt), paired with incredible lighting (Barry McKinney), offer haunting additions to this piece. The arduous journey becomes truly sensorial and is inexplicably tender at times.
Shackleton oddly does not tell the story of one person; it tells the story of us all. The endurance of the human spirt and the innate desire to explore is matched against the foolhardiness of man. The performers, who are superb, are merely part of the process and it is the journey that is the star of the show. The individual side to Shackleton might be purposely underplayed but the humanity within the story shines true. Passion, hope, curiosity and the myriad of intangible things that make us human are all evoked in this outstanding production.
Runs until 11 March 2017 | Image: Peter Martin