Funny and poignant, uplifting and inspirational, Chris Eldon Lee’s ‘Atlantic
Ladies’ is a triumph of theatrical storytelling. This inventive production is more
than an entertaining show, it is an event marking an achievement of three
women with an average age of 57 years, who, without prior experience, decided
to ‘do something crazy’ by rowing across the Atlantic.
The challenge for any dramatisation of real events is to shape them and Eldon
Lee does this superbly. In the first half we discover how and why Elaine Theaker,
Sharon McGrath and Di Carrington came together and took their decision and
then all of the challenges and problems which ensued. The second half sets out
the experience of actually rowing three thousand miles across the ocean, with
the physical stresses and dangers, but also the captivating moments and times of
reflection. The story is lively and engrossing throughout, with innovative staging
and excellent use of sound, lighting and back projection.
Music and songs are an outstanding feature. Snippets from musical themes
punctuate the scenes with intelligence and humour. The singing is excellent,
often with harmonies, and the musicianship is exceptional, with Brian Carrington
and Sally Tonge both being mean finger picking guitarists. The ‘Flying Fish’
routine was a highlight and had the audience tapping feet!
Any drama, however, rests on its characters. The performances are excellent,
being given with great energy and conviction, and there was a palpable feeling of
community between actors and audience. Eldon Lee has captured three
sympathetic and multi-layered women. Christina Cubbin is stylish and intelligent
as Elaine, showing someone who is strong on the outside, (she calls herself a
‘rottweiler’) but also a woman who has to overcome problems and moments of
fear. Jo Cox creates a Di who has leadership, humour and sensitivity. Sally Tonge
is outstanding as Sharon: her performance is physically committed and yet also
at times deeply spiritual. Most of the other characters are played by Tim Baker,
who gives a bravura performance as among others Justin the boat builder, Thor
(the Scandinavian Race Doctor) and a magnificent Whitney Huston.
The set is imaginative, the props are clever and the costumes effective, with the
back of a t shirt at one point helpfully becoming a map of the route. The dance
sequences are well choreographed. The movement and mime are strong and
work powerfully in a dramatic storm sequence.
Chris Eldon Lee has had access to the characters who experienced the actual
events, so in the writing he has been able to include detail which is remarkable
and compelling. At the end, this link between life and the stage is made in a
striking and unexpected way as the real Di lined up with the actors to take a bow.
In drama we talk of searching for ‘truth’ in performance. Well in one clear sense here it was.
The audience gave a deserved standing ovation!
Paul Higgins MA (Cantab), RSC Education Tutor, the Prince of Wales Shakespeare School