Thursday, August 3, 2023

LEGACIES by Rachel Pengilly


Written and Directed by Rachel Pengilly – Movement Direction by Hannah Pengilly

Set Design by Mel Davies and Lachlan Davies - Costume Design by Helen Wajtas

Composition and Sound Design by Shannon Parnell - Lighting Design by Jacob Aquilina

Fight Direction by Jim Punnett – Dramaturgy by Jordan Best

Presented by Q The Locals & Ribix Productions – The Q, Queanbeyan, 2nd – 5th August, 2023.

Opening night performance on 2nd August reviewed by BILL STEPHENS.

Christopher Samuel Carrol (Kerr) - Chips (Angus) in "Legacies"

The details of a true incident involving one of her ancestors, David ‘Jollie’ Brand, passed on to her by her grandmother, provided the inspiration for Rachel Pengilly to write and direct “Legacies”.

Pengilly’s play tells a compelling story of six young Scottish stowaways who were abandoned by the ship’s captain on an ice-flow when the ship on which they had stowed-away became entrapped.

Her imaginative production, presented by The Q as part of its “Q The Locals” program, marks Pengilly’s debut as both playwright and director, and a very impressive debut it is on both counts.

Performed within an excellent, setting of tall-ship sails, created by Mel and Lachlan Davies and sensitively lit by Jacob Aquilina, with stylish costumes by Helen Wajtas, the play commences slowly.

Carefully choreographed fishing-village inhabitants go about their daily business to a sea-shanty sung to a whistled accompaniment. Village boys engage in a playful swordfight, performed to a haunting soundtrack that created an elegiac, almost balletic, mood.

However, it is not until the six boys, played by phoebe Silberman (Hugh McEwan), Tamara Brammall (Hugh McGinnes), Joshua James (John Paul), Zoe Ross (Peter Currie), Jack Morton (David Brand), Tom Bryson (James Bryson), first meet on board the ship, that the story begins to take hold.

Phoebe Silberman (Hugh McEwan) and cast in "Elegies"

Once discovered by the brutal bosun, Kerr (Christopher Samuel  Carroll), the boys are put to work on the ship. All goes well until one of the boys steals some biscuits. Tom takes the blame. Kerr forces David to flog him, following which the stowaways are confined below deck.

 When the ship becomes stuck in the ice and rations run low, Kerr orders that the stowaways be abandoned overboard. The Ship’s captain, Captain Watt (Tom Cullen) does nothing to prevent this happening, and the boys are left to perish.

Most of the second act is taken up with a cleverly staged depiction of the journey of the boys over the ice, during which two perish and the others, including David Brand, incredibly, reach safety; following which Captain Watt and Kerr are put on trial.

Pengilly and her creatives have much to be proud of with this production. It is laden with excellent staging ideas. The throwing overboard of one of the boys, the superbly stage sword fight, the long trek over the snow are among many memorable moments. However, in an effort to include every good idea, pacing suffered and the story-telling was often compromised.

In a bid to achieve authenticity, all the characters speak in thick Scottish accents. Not all the actors were accomplished in this, resulting in many of the lines being unintelligible and much essential information being lost. The play is much less busy in the second half and therefore more effective.

Tom Bryson (James Bryson) - Joshua James (John Paul) - Jack Morton (David Brand)
in  "Elegies"

Despite some over-exuberant movement, Pengilly has drawn some fine performances from her actors.  Jack Morton is outstanding in the central role of David Brand, particularly in the second act, where his bare-footed walking on ice was painful to watch. Joshua James as John Paul and Tom Bryson as James Bryson both offered strong performances, although Bryson will be even more effective once he learns to kerb his tendency to shout his lines.

Despite deeply committed performances from Zoe Ross as Peter Currie, Phoebe Silberman as Hugh McEwan and Tamara Brammall as Hugh McGinnes, the gender-blind casting put them at a disadvantage by compromising the authenticity of the story-telling, particularly in the scenes where the six boys were thrown together. Tabby Silberman charmed with her warm presence as Mother, while Heidi Silberman made the most of her opportunities as Agnes and Catherine.

Christopher Samuel Carroll added gravitas as the brutal Kerr, while Tom Cullen invested his Captain Watt with just the correct level of hesitant incompetence.

Rachel Pengilly has crafted an interesting play which tells an important story. Jordan Best’s “Q The Locals” program has provided Pengilly not only with the valuable opportunity to mount her play, but also to extend her directorial and organisational talents by mounting this impressive production.  Pengilly will learn much from this opportunity, which has already marked her as a promising emerging theatre-maker.      


                         Images by Photox - Canberra Photography Services