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Shackleton’s Carpenter

OSO Arts Centre

Rose Theatre, Kingston - 15 September 2018

Shackleton’s Carpenter

Gripped by Ice


Shackleton’s Carpenter


Hi-Lo Productions at OSO Arts Centre, Barnes, until 15th September, then touring until 1st December*


Review by Mark Aspen


A sudden startling crack, a flash of lightning and there, wild-eyed, was McNish!


We had listening to the BBC Home Service broadcasting between the wars, a clipped voice recounting the privations and the triumphs of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s ill-fated Antarctic expedition of 1914-17, in the ship aptly named Endurance.  Then, from the comfort of the OSO Arts Centre, the startled audience were propelled into the reality of remote, barren and brutal Antarctica.   Thus was the introduction to Shackleton’s Carpenter, a most remarkable and outstanding piece of theatre, opening in Barnes as part of a national tour. 


Shackleton’s Carpenter tells the true story of Harry McNish, Shackleton’s shipwright, who was an extraordinarily gifted carpenter, and was with Shackleton on what must be one of the most arduous voyage of survival ever undertaken.  McNish’s skills in building and adapting small boats, making sledges and shelters ensured that all were saved.  The crew recognised that it was his skills that saved their lives.  However, McNish did not receive the prestigious Polar Medal that was awarded to most of the crew.  In 1930 he died sleeping rough on the waterside in New Zealand, wrecked in body, a vagrant suffering from physical injuries and illnesses, from alcoholism, and from what we would now call post-traumatic stress.


In Shackleton’s Carpenter, we relive the hardships of Harry McNish through a tour de force one-man performance by ex-RSC actor, Malcolm Rennie.  The frustration of his resentment of Shackleton’s failure to recommend him for the Polar Medal is searingly portrayed by Rennie, as is the deterioration of McNish’s mind, as he struggles with the burden of his past.   

The complexity of the character of McNish is skilfully interpreted by Rennie, and we catch moments of love, beauty and tenderness. 


There are many themes in this play, loss, endurance, love, death, class friction, fellowship, resentment, leadership, charity. All are intertwined and all are examined in a complexity that is not black and white.  It is a testimony both to the resilience of the human spirit and to its fragility. 


Read Mark Aspen’s full review at www.markaspen.wordpress.com/2018/09/13/carpenter


Photography by Tamara Ustinov


* The tour of Shackleton’s Carpenter includes the Barn Theatre at Walton at the end of September.

Hi-Lo Productions at OSO Arts Centre, Barnes, unti

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