Hell Ship. Written and performed by Michael Veitch. Directed and co-written by Peter Houghton. Chester Creative. The Q Theatre. Feb 21-22.
Hell Ship is a sliver of a story out of the histories of boat people and voyages to Australia. In 1852 the Ticonderoga sailed for Australia full of would-be migrants. However, the voyage became a nightmare for those on board and for the young ship’s surgeon James William Henry Veitch when typhus broke out. Shades of the coronavirus situation.
Michael Veitch turns in a compassionate and good humoured performance as the older James, attending an overnight vigil with a sick boy and lightening the battle to bring down his fever with the story of that voyage.
It’s a very likable piece, despite the sadness of its subject. James talks of the migrants, mostly Highland Scots, some of who had never even seen the sea before, and describes the lively life on board before the illness strikes. In the worst of it it’s Annie Morrison who becomes a steadfast helper and eventually, after the ship goes through many deaths and a lengthy quarantine in Melbourne, his wife.
The ship is suggested by a towering sail, the lighting is selective and there’s some use of ghostly projections, including one of those grim nineteenth century portraits that suggests no one laughed until the twentieth century. But it’s a moving moment when the sepia photo of James and Annie appears, showing them as they were in later life.
These long voyages changed this continent and not necessarily for the better. But the stories need to be remembered and this excellent piece does so.
Another example of the strong programming at the Q.