Tonight we venture on an expedition- Shackleton and his Stowaway takes us on the perilous journey made by our title characters Ernest Shackleton and his 18-year-old stowaway Perce Blackborow. It’s an unbelievable tale, retold in this production with admirable ambition, but falls short of fully encompassing the grandeur of such a colossal mission.
The play retells the lengthy journey Shackleton took on his Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, with the narrative revolving around the coincidental friendship between Shackleton and his young stowaway. This is not an easy journey- shipwrecks and frostbite ensues. But through it all, these two men thrown together so unexpectedly, manage to endure the literal and metaphorical storm.
Andy Dickinson’s script latches on to the charming anecdote born from two characters with polar opposite personalities; one a steely, straightforward explorer, the other a mouthy, inexperienced teenager. It is not until the story takes a turn for the worse that the characters are stripped back and layers are revealed beyond their stock characteristics.
This balance of comedy and vulnerability would give the script an increased authenticity if it were were maintained throughout. However, the characterisation does lift the story out of the clutches of doom and gloom, with the lighter approach making the story engaging and not just a documentary of the facts.
Our daring duo is made up of Richard Ede as Shackleton and Elliott Ross as Blackborow. With these characters defining the phrase chalk and cheese, both lean into this duality in their performances. Ross is our cheeky comic relief, awash with wonder at the events of this adventure and Ede’s asides are delivered like poetry, demonstrating the appreciation this man had for this treacherous landscape. The difficulty of finding Antarctica in a small theatre cannot be underestimated; Ede and Ross manage to illustrate the spectacle of such a journey with a touching truth.
Kaajel Patel’s set brings this vast continent on to the stage- crates and ropes are interchangeable, becoming boats, then mountains, allowing the play’s timescale to keep a desirable pace. The set supports fast-paced, fluid physical segments that I wish featured more regularly. With an understandably minimalist set, I think Enrique Muñoz Jimenez’s video design could afford to illustrate the setting more realistically. Projection of snow upon the performers adds a really visceral dimension, leaving me curious as to how a more elaborate video design would be able to transport the audience more effectively.
This epic journey is shared without the help of too many bells and whistles. Although this leaves me not entirely immersed in the story, these characters are engaging enough for me to take them at their word. Who really knows how this journey must have felt? Still, I’d wager this interpretation isn’t too far off.
Shackleton and his Stowaway is playing Park Theatre until 1 February. For more information and tickets, visit the Park Theatre website.