Tales from a Sea Journey
New International Encounters (NIE) with Dramatikkens hus, Norway
Stratford Circus and touring
A band in Nordic furs and knits come out into the foyer and play the audience into the theatre where a couple of guys in red sou'westers are sitting waiting for us on the stage. They look quite pleased they've got an audience and eye each other a little before one produces a hand microphone - but he doesn't burst into song. No, he blows on it and we have the sound of a gale. His partner produces another mike and breathes into it and we have the surge of the waves.
They look even more pleased and then surprised as more sea sounds swell to join them. With this simple opener they have captured their audience and they hold them through the next hour with a series of stories they heard, they tell us, while crossing the Atlantic to Guadeloupe on a big container ship.
It is a company of Norwegians, Danes and Brits and some of the songs and dialogue are in Scandinavian languages but they cleverly make sure we get appropriate translations as they are needed. The staging is delightfully straightforward: buckets of water tipped over people to soak them, an actress on a stepladder swayed all over the place by her colleagues as she braves a storm (and being give stuff to gulp to bring up when she retches!), sand poured and tiny palm trees placed as a shipwrecked sailor struggles onto a tropical beach.
This is a close-working ensemble of actor/singers. Keiran Edwards and Robert Orr are the first two sailors but of Elisabet Topp, Jiri N Jelinek, Margit Szlavik and Elke Laleman I am not sure who played what but they are all charismatic performers and the whole thing a sheer delight despite the fact that these are not really happy stories.
One tale tells us of the girl who becomes Norway's first woman on a fishing trawler, only to be lost at sea. Another is about a sailor in the Navy whose ship is torpedoed by the Japanese and has to shoot his dog (clever puppetry with pieces of fur and very touching), then sails for 44 days in a driftwood boat with his long johns as a sail before reaching land, only to end up in a prisoner of war camp - and that part he doesn't want to remember. There is the maths teacher who sails away with her carefully hand-written books of lessons and tests ready for her pupils and has to do it all over again after being sick into her satchel and ruining all the writing.
You might think that not a barrel of fun but, toughly real though they are, these stories are told with great humour and jokes a plenty, well matched to their target audience of youngsters but equally enjoyable for anyone who likes a good piece of theatre. Director Alex Byrne and his team deliver.
Reviewer: Howard Loxton