“Shackleton and his Stowaway” by Andy Dickinson: a chilling, intimate drama coming soon to the Park Theatre, London
The chilling words of an advertisement, allegedly published in The Times by Ernest Shackleton to recruit men for his Endurance expedition to the Antarctic, 1914-1917. Only 26 were chosen from the 5,000 who applied, based on their seamanship, scientific and practical skills as well as, apparently, musical ability.
An 18 year old Welsh boy, Perce Blackborow had been a Steward in the Merchant Navy when his ship went down off the Uruguayan coast which he survived, and made his way to Buenos Aires. When the Endurance arrived, he and his friend, an American sailor, William Bakewell, went along to ask to join the crew. Shackleton interviewed them both and Bakewell was accepted but Blackborow was deemed too young and lacked experience. However, determined to take part in this “dangerous expedition”, he smuggled on board and hid in a locker.
On October 26, 1914 the Endurance set sail from Buenos Aires on its pioneering voyage of exploration – the crossing of Antarctica, the White Continent from sea to sea.
It was three days out of port when the stowaway was found. Shackleton was furious at the situation but realised he had no choice but give him a job as steward. As the stowaway was an extra mouth to feed with limited rations, the stipulation was that, “If anyone has to be eaten, then you will be the first!”.
This is the factual background which inspired the two-hander play, ‘Shackleton and his Stowaway’ by Andy Dickinson, which premiered to popular and critical acclaim with 5 star reviews, at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2018, winning a Laurel award for a Sell Out show.
Stolen Elephant Theatre in association with Park Theatre is now staging an extended production at the Park Theatre, near Finsbury Park, London, from 8th January to 1st February, 2020.
Richard Ede, whose credits include playing the lead in The 39 Steps, is cast as Ernest Shackleton, and Elliott Ross, who has appeared in Queen Anne and Love for Love with the RSC, takes on the role of the Stowaway.
As a theatre critic, this dramatic tale of adventure was an absolute highlight of my Festival Fringe 2018. As I wrote, “This is beautifully written new play by Andy Dickinson, richly poetic (with hints of Dylan Thomas, W.H Auden and Alfred Lord Tennyson) in its lyrical language, balancing light humour with thrilling narrative. This is the art of real storytelling, mesmerising to watch and listen.” 5 stars.
The synopsis of the play:
“Initially, the stowaway is in complete awe of Shackleton. But this fades by the time the Endurance is trapped in the polar ice pack – even more so when the ship actually breaks up and sinks. This leaves them adrift on the ice, hundreds of miles from civilisation.”
With haunting music and atmospheric sound effects – ship’s bells, creaking timbers, the roar of wind and sea – you can picture the scene on board and feel the icy cold as they stand shivering in their wool sweaters and balaclavas.
As we follow their itinerary from Buenos Aires to South Georgia, we observe the changing relationship between Shackleton, nicknamed the Boss, and the Stowaway, who is always referred to as Idiot.
Through the wise and witty conversations between a naïve young boy and one of the most heroic travellers of all time, we hear about their extraordinary, hazardous journey to explore the South Pole where “sea is dark as death.”
The ice is rafting up to a height of 10 or 15 feet in places, the opposing floes are moving against one another at the rate of about 200 yards per hour. The noise resembles the roar of heavy, distant surf. Ernest Shackleton
Ernest Shackleton’s almost-disastrous expedition was the remarkable final chapter in the Heroic Age of Exploration. He proved that just because you do not succeed in a venture, it doesn’t make you a failure.
In his own words, “It is in our nature to explore, to reach out into the unknown. The only true failure would be not to explore at all.”
This is a blisteringly strong, chillingly atmospheric, intimate play. A true story told through the thoughts, dreams and fears of two very different men with emotional poignancy and dramatic imagination.
Miss it at your peril!
Stolen Elephant Theatre in association with Park Theatre
“Shackleton and his Stowaway” by Andy Dickinson
Park Theatre. Clifton Terrace, Finsbury Park, London N4 3JP
Tel. 0207 870 6876
The script of the play is published by Methuen