I am probably fooling myself when I say I went to theatre far more in my BC (before children) days but I have recently decided I do not go nearly enough and I want to introduce my sons to the wonderful world of ‘real’ live stage acting, so they know the difference between the celebs on the TV and those who have a passion to ‘tread the boards’ before a live audience.
And so it was that having seen the advertisement on several occasions in various local mags for Lyme Regis’ Marine Theatre performance of The Ancient Mariner, the flyer that was thrust into my hand in mid July made me take action and put my money where my intention was and I bought tickets for myself and my two sons.
Would they enjoy it? Would they appreciate the splendour of a live performance or would the call of the iPhone, iPod, iPad, etc be too strong a force to reckon with and my attempts to woo them away from the world of electronic entertainment be met with a derisory shrug of uninterested shoulders?
Waiting patiently when nothing is happening, for children, is virtually impossible, so from the moment we arrived at the theatre the “when does it start/how much longer/I’m hungry” performance began. But I had pre-warned them that to secure good seats, we would need to arrive early and so there would be plenty of boredom opportunities to explore. I wasn’t disappointed!
But the layout of the seating that encircled the ship stage set was sufficient to start raising questions in their minds e.g. why were there no sides to the ship and why was there a disco ball twirling overhead?
However, our attention was soon diverted towards a rotund bearded man who sat on the bow of the stage-ship and started to play the mouth organ. He also had what appeared to be a sling around his neck that held something large in its support that rested on the man’s roly-poly stomach.
Then right on cue the first scene of the play opened with two main characters from a wedding appearing on stage, discussing the detail of the forthcoming wedding service. There was clearly a great deal of stress and angst as the groom tried to ensure the Best Man knew precisely what his remit was.
Exit the groom stage right leaving the Best Man to meet the hot and rather uncomfortable looking, mouth organ playing stranger.
The foundations are soon laid as the stranger starts to reveal his sad and salutary tale to the Best Man. Thus the story unfolds as to how the Ancient Mariner has ended up a solitary character that everyone shuns.
Now I won’t pretend for one moment that I can remember the details of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s The Ancient Mariner, it having been a compulsory piece of literature we had to study in English Lit, thus making it immediately alien to me and consigning it to the “what possible use is this going to be to me when I grow up” bin. But I did recall tiny morsels as the performance continued.
However, the minutiae detail of the story is not the purpose of this blog, my focus is on the presentation of the performance and the manner in which the performers managed to gather and absorb the audience into their world of an old sea shanty.
From the word go their dialogue in both content and style was just what you might expect to hear on the morning of a wedding; the stress and anxiety of the groom was brilliantly executed by Harry Long, of a person who is meant to be concentrating on the job in hand. The worry of doing the right thing, whilst not being excessively concerned is perfectly represented by Stu McLoughlin, who is waylaid and entrapped by the curiosity of a scruffy stranger who seems to have a beguiling tale to tell.
There were some extremely simple but highly effective props used e.g. a Lego style toy ship was swept across the front of the audience who were simultaneously sprayed with a fine mist of water so we felt like we were on board.
Then there was the brilliant ‘Waddle’ the adored and greatly honoured albatross. It was down to Stu to ensure Waddle did indeed waddle across the stage, fly around and land amongst the rigging. Had you seen the partially stuffed sea-bird in a charity shop window, you would doubtless have given it less than a cursory glance at best, but in the hands of Stu and with the doving and cooing of the crew, it did indeed come alive and you could almost see the glint in its beady eye.
Other memorable scenes include the grim reaper and sweet little pigtailed girl who was eating an ice cream, both of whom saw to it that the crew along with the Ancient Mariner were despatched to a lingering death and life.
Probably the most memorable character who caused much hilarity amongst the younger members of the audience was the ‘hermit’ (one character I do remember from my school lesson). Played by Stu, this person was a cross between Tarzan, Stig of the Dump, a lunatic and baseball capped drop-out who took great pleasure in throwing bananas at The Mariner. It was a job to keep up with the rapid fire conversations he had (often with himself!) but his appearance combined with his actions and conversation made for a hugely entertaining character.
The performance closed with The Ancient Mariner realising just what he had done by killing the albatross – he had destroyed a belief and trust that the rest of his fellow crew members had relied on to get them through their difficulties, which is probably an even more poignant and significant lesson we should all bear in mind today.
But putting the moral of the story aside, I can highly recommend this extremely entertaining family show, although it is probably more suited to children who are at least 10 years old. It comes to an end at the Marine Theatre on Saturday 25 August but the Shanty Theatre Company will be performing at other locations yet to be confirmed.
Visit their website http://www.shantytheatrecompany.co.uk/ for more information.
The Shanty Theatre Company performed The Rime of the Ancient Mariner at Lyme Regis Marine Theatre from Thursday 26 July – Saturday 25 August. Tickets are £8.50 (£6.50 concessions) and a family ticket (2 adults & 2 children) is £26
The Marine Theatre Box Office tel no is 01297 442138
Catch them while you can is my advice!