Shackleton, Traverse Theatre, Review

Rating (out of 5)
Show details
Blue Raincoat Theatre Company
Niall Henry (director), Jocyeln Clarke (dramturg), Jamie Vartan (set designer), Joe Hunt (sound and video designer), Barry McKinney (lighting designer)
John Carty, Barry Cullen, Brian Devaney, Sandra O' Malley
Running time

The darkened stage of Traverse One has sheeting lying apparently at random on either side of the stage. There is, of course, method in this apparent messiness. Sligo-based Blue Raincoat’s Shackleton is in town as part of a brief tour, the production celebrating Irish-born Sir Ernest Shackleton’s epic attempt to cross Antarctica, in the course of which the expedition’s ship was lost to pack ice and the explorers were forced to survive as best they might until compelled to seek shelter on Elephant Island and then to make the voyage to inhabited South Georgia some 720 miles away.

Shackleton’s leadership skills were later celebrated by an age that was losing an empire and anxious for heroes untainted by such a past. Blue Raincoat largely eschew conventional narrative, apart from some spare projections onto a cloth at the rear of the performance space, choosing to present us with a non-verbal impression of this experience of endurance.

Blue Raincoat, in this reviewer’s experience, are never less than impressive in their dedication to producing high quality theatrical experiences, and they do not disappoint here. In addition to physical theatre of a high order, both creative use of innovative lighting techniques and a score which references Irish music with which Sir Ernest may or may not have been familiar, all contribute to an immersive effect that gives the audience a powerful sense of the frailty of human effort when faced with the power of nature.

At this point a personal confession becomes necessary; for this reviewer, what a set designer friend refers to as ‘the blethers’ remains his preferred form of dramatic communication. Nonetheless, Blue Raincoat ably interpret experience and internal emotion, as both they and we witness the destruction of the expedition vessel and the subsequent efforts of the remaining members of the party to give denial to Shackleton’s warning at the expedition’s outset ‘safe return doubtful’.

As already suggested, this is a fine piece of ensemble playing, its strengths amplified by clever and creative use of lighting design and by adherence to high production values in all areas.

Till 9 June