Writer: Frazer Flintham
Director: Alistair Whatley
Original Theatre has built its reputation on producing innovative digital productions that have increasingly blurred the boundaries between theatre and film, mixing entertaining stories with interesting filming techniques. Their latest venture – Frazer Flintham’s Into the Night from Michael Sagar-Fenton’s book – was due to be live streamed for a single performance before being released on demand in early January, but even online theatre isn’t immune from Covid disruptions.
On 19 December 1981, the Union Star got into trouble when its engine failed just off Land’s End during a violent storm and, with unregistered passengers onboard (the captain’s wife and daughters), the race was on to save them from the dangerous cliffs nearby. Rapidly the Solomon Browne lifeboat was launched with its crew of local men determined to rescue the stranded seamen.
Original has a stream of work dedicated to exceptional stories of heroism in difficult circumstances, previously dramatising tales set in the First World War, in space, and now a tragic lifeboat rescue that celebrates the bravery of the RNLI. Staged in a single room combining narrative, acted scenes, video and sound effects, Into the Night takes an ambitious approach to hybrid storytelling with plenty of promise.
Forced to screen a dress rehearsal when Covid prevented the planned livestream, there is an experimental feel to this version of Into the Night as director Alistair Whatley is still figuring out camera placement and movement while the actors are working on the tight timing needed to manage the many cuts across the room between different scenarios. Not intended to be seen when filmed, you feel for the cast and crew who were still in the process of polishing this drama and have been prevented from completing their work.
Into the Night is written as a chain narrative in which a group of actors pass the retelling of this story amongst themselves. That works fairly well most of the time as the speaker shows maps and pictures to the camera for context while helping the viewer to travel around the room, although sometimes this becomes a little choppy as it forces the camera to spin or lurch to the next speaker. This would work more easily on stage, so perhaps giving each actor larger chunks of text on screen would smooth the movement a little.
Yet, Original brings its usual inventive touch, slowly building the tension as it cuts from the distressed ship to the helicopter, tugboat and lifeboat sent to assist them, using real audio recordings and radio communication between those involved for added resonance. Across 85-minutes the human experience is always at the centre of the story, managing to convey the multi-stranded perspective as well as the elemental circumstances in which the story and its outcomes are positioned.
With ensemble performances from Tom Chambers, Robert Duncan, Susan Penhaligon, Hazel Simmons and Tim Treloar, Into the Night is a very different hybrid story than the ones Original Theatre has told before, leaning into simpler theatre roots while acknowledging the presence of the audience beyond the camera. A shame, then, that Covid has prevented them from giving their ultimate performance but there is already much to admire, and hopefully another chance to perfect it will come soon.
Available here from 6 January 2022