Written and Performed by Aidan Dooley. New Theatre, Dublin until 27 September.
Irishman Tom Crean served under Sir Robert Scott and Ernest Shackleton in their efforts to conquer the polar landscapes in the early part of the last century. He may not be a household name, but he was never far from the action in that troubled period of polar exploration.
Writer/performer Aidan Dooley assumes the character of Crean in a highly engaging performance that outlines a story of great heroism and survival. He presents his subject as a likeable individual and his reminisces are akin to a fireside chat, in which the audience on occasions are invited to partake.
As a precursor to the main drama, Dooley gives us an insight into Crean's upbringing in Kerry, and how, by chance, he happened to join the British Royal Navy at the age of 15. A detailed explanation on the origins of the Antarctic, and the clothes and equipment you need to survive its icy grip, prepare us for the harrowing adventures that lay ahead.
On Robert Scott's failed and fatal attempt to reach the South Pole aboard the Terra Nova (1910-1913) Crean was summoned back to the base camp along with two others to seek help for the stricken vessel. Along the way there is a nerve tingling sledge ride down a glacier and 40-mile slog by Crean to save a fallen companion. Tragically Captain Scott and the men who stayed behind perished within striking distance of reaching their destination.
Ernest Shackleton's Endurance (1914-1916) also succumbed to the icy perils and the crew were trapped on ice floes for months. Crean, along with his captain and four others sailed, on a 21-foot lifeboat across the South Atlantic to get help. They steered their vessel through the eyes of violent storms and risked life and limb in scaling the uncharted glaciers of South Georgia. Every member of the expedition survived, and so could tell their story of abject hardship, but also of newfound places among the frozen landscapes.
After his time on the Endurance Tom Crean went back to Britain and served another three years in the Navy, before he was medically discharged, due to failing sight. Returning home to Annascaul in Kerry, he married a local girl and raised a family. He remained there, where he ran a pub until his death in 1938 from a burst appendix.
Aidan Dooley performance is a master class in storytelling, and his ability to keep the audience enthralled for close on two hours is testament to his skills as an actor. He recently won an award for the best one-man show at the New York Fringe Festival. It is easy to see why.
Staying clear of any theatrics to explain the sometimes-perilous situation his subject found himself in, Dooley's understated approach blended in well with the intimate surroundings of the venue. His script is so rich in imagery, painting us an idyllic picture of the polar landscapes, but also of the many dangers that lie therein. The text also gave life to many of the characters that served with Crean, which further highlighted the fact that life was never dull on any of the expeditions.