THE UNKNOWN LAND by Caroline Small
Poster by Stephen Hepworth
Directed by Alan Meadows
Musical Director: Keith Kendrick
Lighting : Garry Preece (Spook Lighting)
In the 1830s and 40s, the race to discover the fabled North-West Passage – a northern trade route between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans – gripped the public imagination, just as the ‘space race’ did a century later and seamen from British ports sailed north in search of fame and fortune.
The Unknown Land is a compelling tale of extreme survival from a time before radio communication and specialised polar equipment; the human tale behind the politics of the age; the tale of one man’s journey to the ends of the earth and deep inside his own mind. This is an original play for one actor and many characters. Performed by ex-RSC actor, David Frederickson, and professional folk singer and concertina maestro, Keith Kendrick, and inspired by the deeds of nineteenth century Arctic explorers, Inuit mythology and the fatal attraction of the polar regions.
What reviewers have said about THE UNKNOWN LAND
“The ingenious use of space along with sound, music, props and various storytelling devices transported the audience to the 1840s and the dangerously beautiful environment of the Arctic. ….. It shows what can be done with a small budget and a lot of talent. I recommend you see it for yourself.”
(Sharon Oakes, Script Yorkshire)
“Absolutely gripping, multi-layered, wonderfully acted and very, very moving. See it if you can!”
(Sally Goldsmith, singer/song-writer, poet)
“A terrific performance by David Frederickson in a really fascinating play full of wit and love that I didn't expect from the title and subject matter. If it's not the most unexpectedly joyous night out I'll have this year it'll do to be going on with.”
(Rony Robinson, BBC Radio Sheffield)
This well-executed piece from writer Caroline Small is a pleasure to experience, and at just under
two hours, it's easy to achieve a full sense of immersion in a story that follows a nineteenth-century sea-expedition through polar waters.
David Frederickson delivers a consistently robust performance as he slips easily between characters; the result is an engaging and multi-faceted narrative that steers away from an interior monologue. Transitions between characters are smooth, but the central figure here is that of Samuel Straw, stranded in a vast wilderness
indifferent to the tiny actions of man, and forced to confront a previously unimagined solitude. This is an introspective piece that projects the inhospitable Arctic as a harsh physical manifestation of an interior
landscape: The Unknown Land is as much a piece about self-examination as it is about wanderlust.
The text moves from humorous accounts on-board the expedition vessel, and anecdotes from Samuel's childhood, to startlingly beautiful moments of language, from a description of belugas passing beneath the ship, to the
Inuit interpretation of the Northern Lights as 'a thousand torches... lighting the feet of the dead as they cross the bridge to the heavens.' The incorporation of Inuit folklore is used to excellent effect; the story of the raven paddling his kayak into the mouth of a whale to find a girl who dances to the rhythm of the creature's beating heart, or that of the lynx who, driven to hunger, cuts away strips of his own flesh to nourish himself - a cautionary tale of the loss of the self in the ruthless pursuit of self-preservation - acquire poignant significance over the
course of the play. However, it is Keith Kendrick's musical interludes that give the piece true wallop - haunting English folk songs are beautifully delivered.
The Unknown Land is a reminder that the wild is relentless and unforgiving; it is a play that works particularly well at our moment in history, in which it seems all too easy to forget the 'true' nature of a wilderness that,
despite human encroachment and technology, has never been fully tamed. (Buxton Fringe review 2013)