Celebrating Shackleton

by Mark O'Brien
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THE Project Arts Centre is soon to play host to an acclaimed play that tells the story of Irishman Ernest Shackleton’s incredible polar adventure, which saw a disaster at sea turned into a testament to the human spirit.

Shackleton is an original play, presented by Sligo-based theatre company, Blue Raincoat, which explores the Irish explorer’s most incredible feat.
County Kildare-born explorer Ernest Shackleton was obsessed with becoming the first person to reach the South Pole.

In 1901, he joined an expedition to the Antarctic, but had to be sent home due to poor health.
He made another attempt in 1907, but fell agonisingly short when brutal weather conditions forced him to turn back.

Four years later, his dream was shattered when Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen became the first person to reach the world’s most southerly point.
Shackleton then set his sights on a new target: crossing the Antarctic via the South Pole.

In 1914, he set out on an expedition that would become the stuff of legend after his ship – the Endurance – became trapped in ice, forcing the party to halt.

The ice eventually crushed the Endurance, with the crew forced to camp on the floating ice of the icy Weddell Sea for 497 days – incredibly, Shackleton managed to lead his entire team to safety with none of the 28-man party losing their lives.

The Shackleton-led trek and journey by lifeboat to safety cemented his place in history.
In 1921, Shackleton returned to the Antarctic with another expedition, where he died of a heart attack, but his earlier exploits live on and continue to inspire modern explorers, and those who dare to chase their dream.

Shackleton’s director, Niall Henry, told Dublin Gazette that although there were a number of notable explorers at that time, Shackleton’s story is one that is ripe for a staged retelling.
Niall said: “I suppose Shackleton, strangely enough, became the most famous by not getting there.

“He got into difficulty very soon and it took him such a length of time to go back, and everyone thought they were long dead because there was no satellites, no mobile phones, there was no way to know where they were.
“They appeared over the horizon 18 months later and it turned out no one had died.

“Bit by bit they all wrote books, and from the ship’s logs, the information gradually leaked out and the story became extraordinary.”
Blue Raincoat’s production is also extraordinarily told by a talented ensemble cast, complemented by original footage and scaled miniatures.

Niall said: “Everyone [actors John Carty, Barry Cullen, Sandra O’Malley and Brian F Devaney] is on the stage all of the time, and what they do is, they tell the Shackleton story.
“They at times enact scenes and sometimes use scale miniatures, and they use all sorts of material to create the shapes of the ice, so it’s nearly like a moving animation.”

The play has been a remarkable success since it debuted last year, winning Best Set Design in the Irish Times Irish Theatre Awards 2017, where it was also nominated in the Best New Play and Best Sound Design.

Niall said the process has been very rewarding, and there are plans to take the show further afield next year.

“It’s going to the States next year. We got an invitation to a festival in Chicago and to a place in Los Angeles, so we’re looking forward to that,” added Niall.
Shackleton runs at the Project Arts Centre, Temple Bar from Monday, February 26 to Saturday, March 10.

Tickets are available from www.projectartscentre.ie, or by calling the box office at 01 881 9613.

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