Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Theatre review: The Last March

In 1910 Captain Robert Falcon Scott set off on an expedition to lead a British team to the South Pole, hoping to beat Roald Amundsen's Norwegian crew and be the first ever to make it there. They failed, Amundsen planting his flag first, and Scott's journey ended tragically when they didn't survive the trip home. Not an obvious starting point for knockabout comedy, but new company tinder are determined to give it a go in The Last March, devised by director Ian Nicholson and the company. Samuel Dent plays Scott, starting the story with the dream of an expedition that's captured the imagination of the press and public, but not actually found anyone to pay for it yet. A number of failed attempts to find a sponsor ends with the Royal Geographical Society, who agree to the funding as long as the mission includes a geological survey. With just the bare necessities (mainly scotch) packed, the march begins.

Dent is joined by Pernilla Holland in the roles of Amundsen, Scott's wife, and various supporting characters, while Sam Gibbs plays the entirety of Scott's crew, getting a lot of mileage out of the need to constantly change character. The cast are talented and enthusiastic, Gibbs in particular is winningly likeable, and when the show works it's very funny.

Its weaknesses are felt in the slapstick scenes, which feel rather under-rehearsed and lack conviction, and the team haven't quite got the hang of running jokes yet: A little gag about Scott's inability to salute properly could have recurred but doesn't, while many of the weaker gags are run into the ground to the extent I sometimes felt like I was watching Family Guy. Also, Gibbs' "walking downstairs" mime looks more like the "Single Ladies" dance, and this is never commented on. And frankly, there's no excuse for letting a perfectly good "Single Ladies" reference go by the wayside.

But for a newly-created company there's a lot of chemistry between everyone, and the more successful comic moments really work, like Gibbs' protracted attempt to serve tea in sub-zero temperatures, or Holland's "snowstorm" effect that breaks out into open aggression between her and Dent. With some of the rough edges smoothed out this could be a company to look out for. And if you sit in the front row, you might even get a biscuit.

The Last March by tinder is booking until the 4th of January at Southwark Playhouse's Little Theatre.

Running time: 1 hour straight through.

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