Abandon Ship is a dark comedy by Edmund Phillips which tells the story of Rex (Sam Easton). In the real world, he is a captain on a ferry crossing from England to Spain. His ship is falling apart, food is not being served, his entertainers are constantly at each other’s throats, and he is hostile to the dissatisfied passengers, much to the disdain of the ship’s chief officer, Eliza (Grainne Flynn). However, he is descending into madness. Beginning with childish daydreams of being a traditional sailor (or possibly pirate), these progress into dark, twisted illusions which set the audience on edge.
The play was ingeniously directed by Tom Thacker (assisted by Natalie Hillman) and produced by Katie Rooney. It was performed at the Three Minute Theatre (3MT). This was the third MIFTA show this season I have seen at the venue, and yet an entirely different atmosphere was evoked to that of the prior two. Before the play began, dim blue lights, harsh shadows and the creaking noises of a ship unsettled the audience.
I was astonished by the energy and dedication displayed by every actor. From his first appearance on stage, Easton captivated our attention with his powerful movements and voice and would often turn to snarl at audience members. It was his descent into madness that really displayed his physical talents as he suddenly collapsed to the floor at my feet – causing me to jump! From here, he slowly crawled along the floor on his stomach, growling and croaking and when he finally stood up, he hunched himself over and spoke in an utterly transformed voice, becoming a kind of ‘Gollum’ creature.
Megan Shone and Jacob Liam McGoldrick also deserve a mention for their commitment. Initially, they played a middle class married couple, Margaret and Walter, who politely complained to the captain about the standards aboard the ship. Shone particularly showed her talents when Margaret tried to have a friendly conversation with the Captain and began a personal anecdote. This was entirely drowned out as the sound effect of screaming from the depths of Rex’s mind filled the stage, but Shone continued miming while making melodramatic facial expressions and gestures, still telling the story even though Rex was not paying attention to her, my attention stayed fixed on her.
Meanwhile, McGoldrick’s blank facial expressions were perfect for portraying a rather absent-minded, harmless man whom Rex began to envision as his abusive father. At the peak of Rex’s madness, McGoldrick entered half dressed as a policeman and half in red lingerie, representing a hallucination of Rex’s parents and – there’s no other way of putting this – he began to have sex with himself, a testament to his talent. In such a disturbing moment, I did not know whether to laugh or shudder.
The play was not without other funny moments. For example, in an early hallucination, Rex told his sailors they were to fight the kraken and equipped them with plastic swords and pistols, exposing the childish nature of these fantasies. However, when the kraken entered, it turned out to be a manifestation of Jane (Scarlett Gorman), the children’s entertainer on the ship, dressed in a truly ridiculous octopus costume.
Phillips’ bizarre script also incorporated songs for the sailors/barbershop quartet to sing, which Phillips wrote himself. These were filled with crude images and innuendos and from the opening, provided the light-hearted tone the play needed to counteract its grotesqueness. The outstanding direction of Thacker and Hillman combined with this abstract script to make a matchless show without a dull moment.