★★★★★ / 5
The Laconia incident during World War 2, where a U-boat torpedoed the liner, is well known, if mainly for the historical repercussions regarding the rescue of survivors it created in its wake. Crossroads Theatre have chosen to focus on one of the lesser known sides to the story, that of the devastatingly sad true story of the men and women who escaped on a lifeboat and became separated from the mass of survivors before the rescue attempts were made by the German navy.
In one of the most interesting ways to stage a play I’ve seen so far this festival, the stage is covered in a shimmering silver surface whilst the cast situate themselves in the segments of a real lifeboat, which is split and re-arranged continually throughout to show both the passage of time and to emphasise the action on-board. The cast are magnificent in the way they tell the harrowing perils of the survivors’ while they begin to starve and perish to the elements. Using simple tricks and stagecraft to show the effects of sunburn and dehydration, the real emotional impact is in the subtleties between the actors in the small movements and looks. More powerful still are the ghosts of the dead cast, returning to claim each further lost soul from the boat, and the gutting moments of delirium and flashback that broke the eerie stillness with poignant reflection that cut close to the heart and encompass so brilliantly the human loss that took place. A truly classic play that deserves to be seen more than once.