Review: Shackleton and His Stowaway at Park Theatre

Richard Ede and Elliott Ross in Shackleton and His Stowaway. Picture: Elena Molina.

Richard Ede and Elliott Ross in Shackleton and His Stowaway. Picture: Elena Molina. - Credit: Archant

Most of the opportunities to tell this epic story of Shackleton’s 1914 expedition have been missed in this trudge through the snow.

The story of Ernest Shackleton's 1914 Trans Antarctic Expedition and the incredible leadership that allowed all 28 members of his party to survive (although there were deaths among the support group) is one of the most stirring of a genre of British stories that spin a tale of failure into one of overcoming the odds.

Everything about the expedition is epic and, by today's standards, terrifying: the cold, the poor preparation, the primitive equipment and the extraordinary three year duration of the trip.

Shackleton and his Stowaway was first performed at the 2018 Edinburgh Fringe and comes to The Park on the heels of Gail Louw's well received Shackleton's Carpenter at the Jermyn Street Theatre.

It is a two-hander with the suitably imperious Richard Ede playing Shackleton and rubber-faced Elliot Ross as the eponymous stowaway Perce Blackborow.

As Louw has demonstrated, there are rich pickings to be had in this story, but playwright Andy Dickenson seems to have snow blindness and missed most of the wonderful opportunities.

What drove Shackleton; how did he impose his leadership; surely he was more than the Ripping Yarns cipher here conjured?

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Most disappointing is the dialogue ("But isn't it the wildest ocean known to man?").

It oscillates from the tired, low comic to heart-rending accounts of privation to clichéd reflections on the beauty of the Antarctic.

The characterisations of Shackleton and Blackborow are all over the place. Shackers is sometimes a fiery, inspirational leader and master tactician and sometimes a deluded obsessive. Blackborow swings from having a marginal personality disorder to being a brave and resourceful asset.

In two hours, far too much time is spent re-arranging the wooden pallets, veg crates and bits of rope that comprise the set although Enrique Jimenez's video and his colleagues' sound and lighting design were excellent.

Like their characters, Ede and Ross struggled manfully but the rations they were fed were just too thin.

Rating: 3/5.

More details and tickets here.