Forty years ago, the Cornish village of Mousehole was shook to the core when eight volunteer lifeboat men from the town took to sea in the lifeboat ‘The Solomon Browne’ in attempts to rescue a stricken ship broken down in a late December storm, never to be seen again. The Penlee lifeboat disaster of 1981 is talked about and remembered to this day, with the Christmas lights dimmed in the village every year as a sign of respect to the sixteen who died on that horrible night; the eight lifeboatmen and the eight occupants of the doomed coaster, Union Star.
Original Theatre have already impressed greatly with their previous streamed theatrical productions including Bird Song and Apollo 13: The Dark Side of the Moon, and in presenting their newest online piece Into The Night, they honour the lives of those lost on that night in a touching manner using documentary style narration, multiple role changes, simple yet effective staging and digital backdrops.
Just as has been seen all over the country in recent weeks, thanks to the new variant, plans can change at the very last minute. It had been the intention to livestream Into The Night on 18 December, marking the 40th anniversary of the events of The Solomon Browne, but with Covid rearing its ugly head within the cast, plans had to change. This is instead a review of the technical dress rehearsal, recorded in full on 17 December.
Echoing the reality of those eight brave seamen who went out that night, the cast consists of eight talented performers. Robert Duncan plays cockswain of The Solomon Browne, expert seaman Trevelyan Richards, joined by Tom Chambers, Hubert Burton, Robert Mountford, Madeline Knight, Susan Penhaligan, Hazel Simmons, and Tim Treloar who each play multiple parts including the eight lifeboatmen, occupants of the Union Star and residents of Mousehole left at home.
The set is simple but effective, a few pieces of barrier and/or scaffold enough to suggest the boats and the doorway of the Sea King helicopter that was brought in to aid the rescue attempts that night. Movement is used to create the rocking motion of the terrifying waves that night, with sound effects expertly woven in to create the atmosphere of being out in the storm. The scenes aboard the helicopter were particularly effective, with images of the lookout’s legs dangling over a video of a stormy sea really putting the viewer into that moment.
For a show that is crammed full of action in this minute-by-minute retelling of the events of 18 December 1981, from the offices of the Falmouth Coastguard, the men of Mousehole running to the lifeboat station, and the rescue attempt out at sea, Into The Night is able to both immerse the viewer in the action and pull at the heartstrings. We are watching this retelling fully in the knowledge of what happened on that night, but still you find yourself hoping that the rescue will be successful. You see the hope in the eyes of the lifeboatmen and those being rescued, the hope of those left at home waiting for the Solomon Browne to return.
As this is the technical dress rehearsal, there are a number of line mishaps and a few moments when cameras are not quite in the right place, meaning that a few lines get lost in the movement but nevertheless, this small cast and Original Theatre have created a piece of theatre that both excites the audience with its action and reminds them of a powerful story of bravery that deserves to be celebrated.
'Into The Night' can be streamed online until 20th February with tickets available here
I was invited to review 'Into The Night' ahead of public release on behalf of West End Best Friend. You can also see this review here
Images found via Google, not my own