Trial of the Mariner
Conceived by Sarah-Jane Blake & Roberto Sánchez-Camus, devised by Lotos Collective, the cast and the Junk Orchestra
It is a hundred years from now and a great tsunami has swept up the Thames destroying London. There is no oil and life is in chaos. Fleeing this dystopian world, seven sailors board a Ship of Fools under the command of Skipper Mac until in the North Pacific, where even today the plastic flotsam of three continents swirls in the Great Pacific Gyre, they reach the Plastic Continent.
Trial of the Mariner is a moral tale that draws on the discoveries of oceanographers and ecologists, the medieval concept of the Ship of Fools and Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and even echoes Lewis Carroll's The Hunting of the Snark. The Boojum here is probably ourselves and the Albatross hanging around our necks is plastic.
A promenade production, played across the floor, stage and galleries of Hoxton Hall, Trial of the Mariner has enormous vitality and its enthusiastic creators display a huge range of skills but at first my spirits sank when it opened with a voice misusing a microphone. That is followed by what I can only describe as shouting as the Skipper begins the story. It may match the way he exerts his authority as captain but will his voice survive the run? Shouting may grab attention but it is not the best way to keep it. However it is more comprehensible than some of the voices when both the Skipper and the audience are eventually arraigned for trial.
But this is not really a show about text and its simple message that if we are not careful we will drown in a sea of plastic can hardly be missed. In fact, some of the text appears to be in an invented language. There is a strong a Latin-American influence and there are songs in what I think was Spanish and even one in Welsh and the music is fantastic. The Junk Orchestra uses a plethora of instruments made from all kinds of domestic scrap recycled into wind and percussion instruments from plastic barrels to metal tubing, tin cans to crunched-up plastic. They make a marvellous uninhibited sound.
The physical performers are no less talented and uninhibited, some with the circus skills of contortionists. They brilliantly fit spins and somersaults into what ever space is available, fish or dolphins swim between your legs and almost under your feet, a boat is built in your midst. Clever animations projected on a sail stretched across the hall's stage match the action, crazy plastic constructions fashioned from polyplastic detritus make moving scenic elements or cascade from above until eventually the whole theatre seems to be buried in plastic.
The voyage encompasses crossing the Equator with attendant ceremony, in which a cabin boy is lost to the sharks, a Homer-inspired sequence where the sailors are blindfolded rather than ear-plugged to avoid being lured to their doom, the shooting of the albatross and a great storm, which the audience help to create equipped with thunder sheets. If there is not something to hold your attention in front of you there is something edging in behind or below you.
In this surreal chaos things aren't always clear and sometimes an element is overworked or self-indulgent but it is put together with a precision that seems unaffected by the random disposition of the audience.
If there is anyone still unconvinced that we need to take a more responsible attitude to the ecological damage we cause, Trial of the Mariner is not going to change them, for it lacks any polemic structure; it is more a festive piece for the converted. I felt its ending needs clarifying and rethinking but, if that was a bit of a let down, the orchestra lift things immediately and everyone gets the chance to join in with the music making and go out on a high.
Runs until 21st May 2011
Reviewer: Howard Loxton