Shackleton's Stowaway (3 stars)

This article is from 2018

Shackleton's Stowaway

A perfectly serviceable play about Antarctic exploration

In 1914, Ernest Shackleton and a crew of 28 men set sail aboard the ship Endurance, with the intention of making the first land crossing of the Antarctic continent. Though they ultimately failed in their ambition after becoming locked in the pack ice and stranded for more than a year, the expedition – and the figure of Shackleton in particular – has been lauded throughout history as an epic feat of survival.

Shackleton's Stowaway, a production by Stolen Elephant Theatre, is faithful to this narrative, but refracts it through the lens of the relationship between Shackleton and Perce Blackborow, the 18-year-old Welshman who stowed away on the expedition. Craig Poole is delightful as the starry-eyed Blackborow: he adores Shackleton, but his hero worship is tested when the Endurance is destroyed. This shaken faith lends an interesting perspective on history, which often casts events as inevitable and its heroes as irreproachable.

Carl Thompson indeed cuts an imposing figure as Shackleton. With only a black backdrop and a projected map for stage dressing, Shackleton's booming voice describing with poetic awe the drama and violence of their surroundings is genuinely affecting. Despite retreading familiar ground, Shackleton's Stowaway proves that the narratives from the heroic age of Antarctic exploration still make for compelling stuff.

theSpace @ Surgeons Hall, until 25 Aug (not 12, 19), £9–£10 (£7–£8).

Shackleton and His Stowaway

  • 3 stars

Play based on the true story of Shackleton's expedition to Antarctica and their fight for survival.