The great outdoors
Epic adventures are a common theme at the Fringe this year. Steve Cramer investigates
This article is from 2007.
As soon as he set eyes on GM Calhoun’s ripping yarn about Scott of the Antarctic, The Last South: Pursuit of the Pole, director Rob Mullholland knew it would be the show that would tempt him back to the Fringe. A story of extreme human endurance, it sets two monologues side by side, those of Scott and his Norwegian rival Roald Amundsen, completely in their own words, as compiled from letters and diaries.
‘In 1912 there was no prospect of war, everything seemed optimistic, and there was a general feeling of hope for a new world,’ says Mullholland, who in the early 90s scooped Fringe Firsts four years out of five. ‘There were three journeys that captured the imagination of the world: Scott’s, Amundsen’s and the voyage of the Titanic. Two of the three ended in tragedy.’
‘Scott has this great eagerness and boyishness – he thought of science as poetry and poetry as science,’ reflects Mullholland. ‘One of the few things that Scott and Amundsen shared was this bond with the men. There’s a sense of almost Journey’s End, of the First World War trenches about the relationship formed between these men.’
Another story of human intimacy and the need for isolation and epic adventure is told in An Air Balloon Across Antarctica. In it, Scott himself puts in a brief appearance, along with his other great rival Shackleton, as well as early aviationist and adventurer Amelia Earhart. They all appear as hallucinations to a minor female celebrity who, after the death of her child and the end of her marriage, seeks to find emotional tranquillity in the journey of the title. Darragh Martin’s play has already cleaned up at the Melbourne fringe.
Meanwhile, from Ireland, Mercedes Gleitze, another, now forgotten, female celebrity who swam the English channel in 1927 is brought to life by writer and performer Linda Radley, promising insights into the capacity of mass media technology to create and forget celebrities in short order.
And Rona Munro’s new play, Long Time Dead, also speaks of adventure, this time telling the story of a couple of mountain climbers, one with a tragedy already behind him, and their inability to adjust to the modern world. Director Roxana Silbert of Paines Plough links the need to find forms of human intimacy in isolation and danger specifically to history.
Silbert says, ‘The new attitudes to nature that occurred with Romanticism are still very much alive in the present day, where this story is set. It’s about these peoples’ relationship with the modern world. There’s something about modern technology that’s totally limiting. Rather than facilitating, as it’s meant to be, it’s restrictive.’
Here again, the human dynamics between the men at the centre transcend those of everyday relationships. ‘The one attempt at a sexual relationship in the play, with a nurse, is a disastrous failure, because she’s not capable of intimacy.
‘In the situation these characters are in, your life completely depends on the person you’re with. If the other person screws up, you’re dead. And there are a lot of decisions taken together in the play. It’s a life and death decision you have to both commit to, like love,’ adds Silbert. ‘Their desire to get to the top is important enough to risk their lives for – that’s a thing that you have to be a climber to access.’
Go on, escape the modern and get back to nature.
The Last South: Pursuit of the Pole, Pleasance Courtyard, 556 6550, 4–27 Aug (not 8, 15), 1.10pm, £9–£10 (£8–£9). Previews 1–3 Aug, £5; An Air Balloon Across Antarctica, Pleasance Dome, 556 6550, 4–27 Aug (not 6, 13, 20), 5.20pm, £7.50–£8.50 (£5–£7). Previews 1–3 Aug, £5; The Art of Swimming, Traverse Theatre, 228 1404, 3–12 Aug (not 6), times vary, £14 (£5–£10). Preview 2 Aug, £10 (£5). Long Time Dead, Traverse Theatre, 228 1404, 5–26 Aug (not 6, 13, 20), times vary, £16 (£5–£11). Previews 4 Aug, £11 (£5).