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A CurtainUp London Review
The Pirate Project
by Sebastian King
Performers Chloé Déchery, Lucinka Eisler and Simone Kenyon play versions of themselves, each taking on the persona of an historical female pirate as part of their own personal quests. Their re-enactments of moments in the lives of Ching Shih, Mary Read and Anne Bonny take them on individual and interlinked metaphorical journeys of self-discovery. Plastic swords and stick-on moustaches abound as the three performers leap into high-energy comic storytelling mode with plenty of swashbuckling and sea shanties thrown in for good measure.
Those familiar with the work of Improbable will recognise their trademark style in Lucy Foster’s direction. The audience are frequently referred to – in this case as ‘sisters’ - taking on the role of ‘one big pirate crew’, frequently encouraged to shout out ‘aargh’ at opportune moments. There is an emphasis on the fact that the performance is ‘live’ and the lines between what is being improvised and what has been rehearsed are blurry. Also present is Improbable’s ‘celebration of failure’: Eisler, trying to combat her indecisiveness in the hoping of finding ‘the real me’, bemoans the fact that she has ended up being ‘a woman, playing a woman, playing a man, in love with a man, played by a woman,’ leaving her even more confused. Sections are rewound, replayed, chewed-up and spat out again, and we get a very real sense of history being written and rewritten.
Déchery, Eisler and Kenyon are immensely likeable, and their energy and enthusiasm are what keep the show going, even if there are times when we’re not quite sure where it’s all going. Philip Eddolls’s boat-like set, complete with treasure chests and a crow’s nest, is fully utilised, particularly in the moments when Ian William Galloway’s atmospheric video designs of various horizons are projected across the sails.
At its core, The Pirate Project is an exploration of female identity. That’s not to say that it doesn’t speak to men as well – we can all relate at times to feelings of insecurity, self-consciousness and the desire to reconnect with our past. But the emphasis is firmly on what it means to be a woman in a society still dominated by men. Allusions are drawn between the politics of the present day, and the 17th and 18th Century worlds within which their chosen heroines existed. The stories are interwoven with recorded footage of women of a certain age speaking about their own life experiences, sharing their philosophies and imparting nuggets of wisdom. The message seems clear – every woman is a pirate in her own way, flouting the rules and navigating her own meandering voyage through life.
Whether or not we leave the theatre fully convinced that embracing our inner pirate will solve all of our problems, with its celebration of friendship, solidarity and individuality, there are clearly lessons to be learnt from this enjoyable theatrical history lesson.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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