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Shackleton

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars

There isn't a word spoken in Blue Raincoat Theatre's mesmeric evocation of Irish-born early twentieth century explorer Ernest Shackleton's ill-starred but ultimately heroic Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914-17. To fill in the back story, Shackleton's attempt to make the first land crossing of the Antarctic on the ship Endurance was blighted when the ship became trapped in ice, was crushed and eventually sunk. This necessitated the crew to man the lifeboats and set up camp on an uninhabited island, while Shackleton led an 800 mile trip to South Georgia to enable a rescue mission.

While there may be four people onstage in Niall Henry's dense, slow-burning production, such a complex tale of derring-do in the face of elemental adversity goes beyond words. Instead, over seventy remarkable minutes, the windswept-looking quartet use little more than a handful of sheets, a model ship and a bunch of wooden poles to carve out a landscape that's bigger than anything a more naturalistic rendering might achieve.

The sheets are bundled to resemble hazardous ice or else spread out to become mountain ranges on which cardboard cut-out miniatures of the crew walk across. Occasionally, with the men marooned, the multi-tasking ensemble of John Carty, Barry Cullen, Brian F Devaney and Sandra O Malley act out slow-motion football games, or else simply look a little lost as they attempt to find their way home.

Jamie Vartan's set design is crucial to the show's meticulous construction, as is Barry McKinney's moody lighting and Joe Hunt's archive video projections as Jocelyn Clarke's dramaturgy keeps the story crisp and even. All this is pulsed by Hunt's equally evocative sound-scape in an unmissable adventure in visual story-telling.

 
The Herald, June 9th 2017

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