Into The Night

Frazer Flintham, based on the book Penlee: The Loss of a Lifeboat by Michael Sagar-Fenton
The Original Theatre Company in association with Martyn Hayes

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The Cast of Into The Night Credit: Michael Wharley
Tim Treloar and Madeline Knight Credit: Helen Maybanks
Robert Duncan Credit: Helen Maybanks

Streamed theatre has been forced into the mainstream over the last two years with mixed results depending on a whole host of factors including budget, style and just how ‘live’ the streaming is.

With Into The Night, The Original Theatre Company reflects the benefits and power of both media offering a filmed version of a live performance directed specifically for an online audience. As a result, the production is often filmic with plenty of scenes cutting between locations during speeches and close-ups denoting moments of stress or claustrophobia. The method of storytelling is inherently theatrical however, with an ensemble cast multi-rolling, as well as narrating, and live music placing the tale within its Cornish context.

The production is based on the book Penlee: The loss of a lifeboat by Michael Sagar-Fenton and treads a rather beautiful path of education, remembrance and tense drama. For those unaware of the tragedy, the story follows the crew of the Solomon Browne lifeboat which launched on Saturday 19 December 1981 to rescue the Union Star coaster which was being swept towards the rocky Cornish coast. The show marks the 40th anniversary of the event which, according to the press release, was an attempted rescue that ranks not only with the greatest in the history of the RNLI, but with any human achievement.

The tone of the piece is set from the opening scene with the community gathering together in the lead up to Christmas. Through a quick glimpse into the normal lives of the people of Mousehole, it’s clear that they’re ordinary and unassuming which makes the events that unfold over the next 90 minutes all the more astonishing and humbling. By establishing the characters in this manner, the exposition is swift but incredibly effective, allowing the factual narrative pieces of script time to be digested, a useful pacing tool but also highly relevant to the plot, especially for those not familiar with the RNLI or indeed the event itself.

As that fateful night unfolds, vignettes give way to full scenes, the action moving from the deck of the Union Star to the control towers of the coast, the cabin of a search and rescue helicopter and back again, each interaction growing more serious and life threatening as potential solutions to the Union Star’s engine issues fail to materialise. Eventually, with weather conditions continuing to hamper any progress, the volunteers of the Penlee lifeboat answer the call and make their way out into the night.

The cast of eight all deserve credit for their immersion in the piece, which is truly engaging. Through well considered direction, the mood and locations are clearly and cleverly established but the ability of the cast to slip from character to character with the same level of intensity is what drives the heart of the message. There are no lengthy monologues or backstories and yet each is defined and remembered through the storytelling.

With use of projection, live and pre-recorded sound, deceptively simple costume design and sets that evoke the harshness of the environment, the production retains an intimate feel whilst simultaneously representing the vastness of the sea and cruel elements. It never loses its theatrical flair but, as the story advances, the naturalism of the acting overrides any initial simple representation.

Into The Night is delicately paced and performed, a moving and fitting memory to a group of ordinary and yet extraordinary people.

Reviewer: Amy Yorston

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