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‘Shackleton and his Stowaway’ review

Theatre, Drama Park Theatre , Finsbury Park Monday January 20 2020 - Saturday February 1 2020
2 out of 5 stars
Shackleton and His Stowaway, Park Theatre 2020
Photograph: Elena Molina

Time Out says

2 out of 5 stars

This based-on-true-events drama about the man who stowed away on Ernest Shackleton’s Endurance expedition squanders a promising set-up

‘Shackleton and his Stowaway’ is the second play about the early twentieth-century British explorer Ernest Shackleton to hit the London stage within a year. The plight of his ship, the Endurance, trapped and then crushed by ice in the Antarctic in 1915, while Shackleton and his crew escaped and ultimately survived, is a thrilling story. But Andy Dickinson’s new play fails to translate this into gripping theatre.

It’s an odd-couple two-hander between the posh Shackleton (Richard Ede) and an unnamed stowaway (Elliott Ross), a starry-eyed working-class fanboy of the explorer’s adventures, who manages to sneak onboard the Endurance shortly before it sets sail for Antarctica. (There was a real stowaway, Perce Blackborow, but for whatever reason the character has been fictionalised here). Stuck together, the pair have to learn to get along with each other – particularly when their survival depends upon it.

The research clearly poured into this production shows in the script’s detailed description of daily life aboard the Endurance. But what it squanders while doing so is the dramatic opportunity to shine a light on the evolving lives of its characters. For the best part of the play’s excessive two-hour run-time, the pair are locked in a dynamic of ‘wide-eyed amateur’ and ‘grumpy older man’.

We learn a lot about sailing, but not much about these people. By many accounts, the real-life Shackleton was a complicated mix of heroism, stubbornness and restlessness, wrapped up in class privilege. But, weirdly, Dickinson never really delves into the potential for social commentary he’s created. And as the play wavers uncertainly between Shackleton the myth and Shackleton the man, the result is a chippy explorer.

Ede and Ross both give committed performances, while director Simone Coxall’s production works to conjure a sense of drama in the Park Theatre’s studio space. There’s some lovely, jittery electronic sound design from Dominic Brennan and evocative, impressionistic projections of mountains of ice by video designer Enrique Munoz Jimenez. But, like the Endurance, ‘Shackleton and his Stowaway’ too often feels stuck to the spot.

By: Tom Wicker



Venue name: Park Theatre
Address: Clifton Terrace
N4 3JP
Transport: Tube: Finsbury Park; Rail: Finsbury Park
Price: £14.50-£18, £13-£16.50 concs

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