Chronicling the infamous, disaster-stricken 1914 attempt to cross Antarctica, Shackleton and his Stowaway is an uneven historical drama from author Andy Dickinson. Though the story is inherently gripping – full of vivid personalities, tragic overreaching, and extraordinary endurance – the play often feels flat, overladen with information and padded out like a winter coat.
Director Simone Coxall introduces some energy through brisk movements and symbolic physical activity, with both of her performers continually hauling ropes or balancing on rickety wooden pallets.
Richard Ede is strong as Shackleton, nailing the heroic explorer’s awkward mix of gallantry and self-absorption, overconfidence and superhuman tenacity. After a grindingly slow first half, he gets a chance to shine in a significantly tighter second act, which sees him delivering a breathless monologue through gritted teeth as he describes every painful step of Shackleton’s gruelling, desperate journey to rescue his stranded party.
Opposite him, Elliott Ross plays starstruck stowaway Perce Blackborow, his initial fanboy enthusiasm quickly draining away as he gradually realises that tagging along on a never-before-attempted trans-Antarctic crossing might be a bit of a slog.
Pablo Baz’s sombre lighting helps to create a suitably oppressive mood, with the deep purple shadows of Antarctic twilight blending seamlessly into the eerie blues and greens of glacial ice.
Meanwhile, Dominic Brennan’s melancholic soundscape features whistling wind and the deep percussive thumps of colliding ice flows that serve as counterpoints to a stately, elegiac piano score which movingly captures the quiet desolation of the unforgiving continent.