Thursday, August 3, 2023

Legacies by Rachel Pengilly


The young stowaways and the First Mate
in Legacies by Rachel Pengilly

Legacies by Rachel Pengilly.  Ribix Productions and Q The Locals, Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre, August 2-5, 2023.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
August 2

Playwright & Director - Rachel Pengilly
Composer, Sound Designer & Production Manager - Shannon Parnell
Set Design & Construction - Mel Davies, Lachlan Davies
Costume Design - Helen Wojtas; Lighting Design - Jacob Aquilina
Movement Director & Stage Manager - Hannah Pengilly
Fight Director - Jim Punnett
Assistant Stage Manager & Props Master - Dania Anderson
Dramaturg - Jordan Best
Cast (in alphabetical order) - Tamara Brammall, Tom Bryson, Christopher Samuel Carroll, Tom Cullen, Joshua James, Chips, Jack Morton, Zoë Ross, Heidi Silberman, Phoebe Silberman, Tabby Silberman

RIBIX Productions, pre-professional theatre company, was founded around the idea of giving a voice to young people in the performing arts industry, placing them at the centre of the story.

With this in mind, I found strengths and weaknesses in the production of Legacies, although it was clear from the enthusiastic response of a large proportion of the audience on opening night that Ribix has built a keen community of young people and parents for whom Legacies is seen as a major achievement.

The dialogue and characterisation in retelling her personal family story from her great-great-great-grandfather David ‘Jollie’ Brand about “six Scottish stowaways who stole away on a ship chasing dreams of adventure” have led Rachel Pengilly to adopt a simplistic theatre approach.

The captain and first mate on the ship, for instance, say things that the author wants them to say forcefully, and without any subtlety in the relationship which good drama needs between these two men in such difficult circumstances.

There is a telling point to the story, since they received short jail terms for their actions which resulted in the deaths of three stowaways, but their characters are presented in too shallow a way for us to genuinely feel for and against them.

For the young members of the cast, it would have been important to work with adult professional actors to guide them, but in Legacies, only the mothers expressing their loss of their sons in short monologues provided models for the young to work towards and it was particularly surprisingly to see Christopher Samuel Carroll as a bombastic cruel first mate shouting with no apparent reason except that was what he does. The story about him may be true, but the drama on stage needs to round out his character.

It is evident in the writing that the author seems to have decided on her theme then acts out scenes to demonstrate the theme of decisions made which seem to be the only choice at the time.

This was clear enough when the captain agreed with his first mate to make the decision to send the children off the ship and to walk across the ice 12 miles to unlikely rescue.

But then the play  had young boys talking about how it was necessary to make difficult decisions, like leaving someone behind to die. The theme was clear, but despite a sad sound track, mood lighting, and the intense effort the actors put into miming and Scots accents, the excruciating miming of walking in bare feet could not be felt to be real by those watching.

The young actors did an excellent job of demonstrating physical theatre, but were not given the experience of working with a script that took them and us into real emotion.