Going South!

Craig Methven
Back of the Attic Theatre with CaroleW Productions
The Literary and Philosophical Society of Newcastle-upon-Tyne
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When you enter the Neo-Classical Literary and Philosophical Society building on Newcastle’s Westgate Road (opened in 1825), you see on the right a broad, sweeping staircase which divides into two and leads you to the Library, a huge room with packed bookcases stretching up to a gallery where there are yet more bookcases reaching to the ceiling. There are other free-standing bookcases—there’s a Children’s Section in the middle—and busts in the Roman style of notable members of the past. By the door through which you enter is a longcase clock which seems to be as old as (or even older than) the building itself. It is a non-chiming clock for, after all, this is a library!

The Society was formed for literary, philosophical and scientific exploration long before the establishment of Newcastle University. There were lectures and demonstrations by the best intellectual minds of the day: Joseph Swan lit a public room by electricity for the first time in 1881 and literary luminaries such as Oscar Wilde and E M Forster visited. Its book collection now exceeds 200,000 volumes and it has the most extensive music library in the region.

An appropriate setting, then, for a theatrical tale of derring-do, of British grit and courage, of exploration of the most inhospitable part of our planet, of the wastes of Antarctica, by those great British heroes Scott, Oates and Shackleton and the Terra Nova team of Scott, Lawrence Oates, Edward Adrian Wilson, Henry Robertson Bowers and Edgar Evans which eventually reached its goal, the South Pole, only to find they had been beaten to it (by 34 days) by Johnny Foreigner, the Norwegian Roald Amundsen!

It’s the story of Apsley Cherry-Garrard (“Cherry”), the only member of the expedition to survive, mainly because he was sent back to England before the final push to the Pole to deliver emperor penguin eggs to the Royal Society.

But that was then, this is now and Going South! is a post-imperial, post-heroic take on the story. More or less from the off, we are laughing. Don’t misunderstand, it doesn’t belittle Scott or his fellow explorers; rather writer and performer Craig Methven looks at the whole story through the eyes of the youngest member, the well-meaning and enthusiastic Cherry, just down from Oxford, whose only qualification is having money to back the expedition but who otherwise doesn’t have what it takes.

He talks of his attempts to join the expedition, of his attempts to make a real contribution, of his relationships with the others. He uses visual aids. There are eggs, there’s juggling, there’s marching, there’s music. There's even a bit of a striptease!

More or less.

Actually, more less than more but it all adds to the humour.

Standing on a tiny platform, two speakers behind, in front of the Lit & Phil’s children’s section with his props table on one side and his technician with a laptop controlling the music on the other, his engaging (if somewhat less than competent) personality draws us in and we are entertained and amused as we learn the details of Scott’s expeditions, the unsuccessful and the more or less successful, in the course of a very pleasant end enjoyable hour.

History with humour! What's not to like?

Reviewer: Peter Lathan