Arts Festival Review: Lifeboat
Arts Festival Review: LifeboatReview by Lyndon Hood
Catherine Wheels Theatre Company (UK)
Directed by Gill Robertson
28 Feb & 1 Mar, Soundings Theatre
Upper Hutt, Greytown & Lower Hutt on 23 Feb, 3 Mar and 8 Mar
See http://www.nzfestival.nzpost.co.nz/theatre/lifeboat for details
Lifeboat is one of few festival events listed as "family friendly" in the festival programme - the Catherine Wheels theatre company rates it as "for people aged 8 and above". Saturday's early matinée saw a scattering of children, considerably outnumbered by grey and white heads. For this wartime play, it seems reminiscing trumped education. And the play certainly covers everything from wartime privation to The Wizard of Oz.
Based on a true story, the action centres around two girls who were on a torpedoed transport to Canada and spent 19 hours clinging to an upturned lifeboat before being rescued - two of only eleven survivors.
Lifeboat is presented with the wide-eyed, face-on energy one might associate with children's theatre. But the production is in no way below anyone's level. The two actors (Suzanne Robertson and Isabelle Joss) present clearly-drawn, playful characterisations for the girls at the centre of the story and all the various people around them.
Most of the play is structured as a series of flashbacks as the girls fight to hold on to the boat - scenes of family life, their youthful dreams and the progress of the journey - and the clearly-conveyed desperation experienced during their ordeal also gives emotional depth.
Finally the actors continue the story forward in the voice of the two women in the present, filling in the rest of their story, speaking of their ongoing friendship and remembering. Phrases like "we held on" and "we were not in the business of giving up" resonate with wartime attitudes, and at the end of this play they take on an almost existential significance.
A charming production, Lifeboat is also life-affirming, a very human story of dealing with terrible events, facing impossible odds, and succeeding.