★★★★ / 5
Slick, traditional theatre at its best, this is the story of the torpedoed liner the Laconia in WWII, and the survivors escape onto a lifeboat that then floats for weeks on the high Atlantic. The talented cast and wonderful set design bring to life beautifully the sense of time and place.
This is a simple story of survival and most of the action takes place within the lifeboat. The ensemble cast keep our view fresh by moving the boat, which is seperated into several parts, around the stage at different angles; also representing the moving on of time and the drifting in different directions. The sea is effectively portrayed by way of shiny reflective plastic and the sky by painted driftwood like cabinets with old bottles on the shelves. The small stage is filled with a buoyant, energetic cast that know exactly what they are doing by way of excellent direction.
The opening, and a later scene, sees the cast move stylistically around the stage. This is in contrast to the naturalism that comes afterwards but this alteration of style is handled with grace. The acting is highly naturalistic and the makeup impressively realistic. Each actor plays their part with sensitive realism, each facial expression showing their desperation and fear. The script is imperfect however, with lapses into abstraction that don’t fit and are awkwardly delivered by the actors. What was also slightly baffling was the decision to not give several of the characters speaking roles (although these actors, to their credit, were still very present). This may work in a film, but on stage, with naturalistic acting, I wondered why they didn’t talk. As they die one by one they are maneuvered off the boat into the sea and move off stage with a grace that deftly symbolises their passing.
Sound, lighting and other innovative production values like the pouring of water from one jug to the other further add to this highly impressive production. As a piece of historical storytelling this production suceeds on every theatrical level. What diminishes it a little are parts of the script and a gradual dip in tension the more the bodies leave the boat, with the ending drawing to a predictable conclusion. However, this is more than worth seeing for the beautiful set and stagecraft, slick direction and admirable acting.
Reviewed by FLM