Summer is often the time of travel and, nowadays, getting to even the far ends of the globe is relatively easy. The worst we face are the trials of Easy Jet or the discomfort of a Megabus. The most disastrous voyage I have personally experienced was the 11-hour ferry from Aberdeen to Orkney, but even that (vomiting aside) was far less arduous than what travellers and explorers used to have to bear in order to see the seas of distant lands.
Drifters by Strange Arrangements Theatre Company take as their starting point the troubles of travellers long ago. The piece is inspired by The Travels by John Mandeville and Percy Fawcett’s journey through the Amazon in search of the city of Z, but focuses on just three characters thrown together by circumstance and rough waves. Joey (Ivan Hall), Hans (Nigel Luck) and William (Alex Mangan) do not even speak the same language as each other but they manage well enough to communicate their shared wish to be rescued by a passing ship and to keep each other alive.
Most of all though they communicate through the stories they enact using puppets made from various creepy objects dotted around their shipwrecked home – brown paper sails and fleshless bones. At the heart of this piece is an attempt to show the importance of story telling for those in adverse scenarios. On the aforementioned trip to Orkney I tried distracting myself with Proust. Mainly because I figured if there was ever a time in my life when I would actually have time to read Proust, it would be on an 11-hour ferry across the North Sea. I was wrong, the prose was dizzy-inducing enough as it was and I would have swiftly puked back up any proffered madeleines had I had the chance.
The stories our three heroes tonight tell are far better. The very scenery morphs into big emu-like birds scratching at their feathers and pecking at the ground. Telephone calls echo out of boxes and a sorrowful Easter Island face floats down from the rigging. The world of these three characters is not one of those visiting the awe-inspiring tropics and enjoying the view from a beach-side cocktail bar; their trips to far away lands have not lead them to paradise. But the stories they tell let them travel yet further from even these places. Storytelling keeps them sane, it allows them to say things their language barriers prevent them from saying.
There is a pleasing child-like quality to this show in its use of simple dialogue and household materials (yards of parcel wrapping and black bin bags blown up with a fan), yet the emotions evoked by the stories told suggest a much more sophisticated relationship with the world. It’s convincing as a means of removing yourself from reality and reminds me that if I ever get on that foul ferry again I’ll take a puppet or two along with me for distraction purposes.