Review: Mariner is an exquisitely magical treat on Warwick stage

Nick Le Mesurier reviews Mariner, presented by Playbox Theatre at the Dream Factory, Warwick

'The choreography was amazing, the players shifting in costume and posture like water in the wake of a ship': Mariner at the Dream Factory, Warwick
'The choreography was amazing, the players shifting in costume and posture like water in the wake of a ship': Mariner at the Dream Factory, Warwick

Mariner is Playbox Theatre’s latest production, a wild ride through uncharted seas that roughly follows the voyage in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.

The poem charts the voyage of a Mariner, who has been cursed for the crime of shooting an albatross, a bird that in the days of sailing ships and long, long voyages abroad was considered sacred by sailors. His destiny, upon returning home, is to tell his tale to whoever will listen. In Playbox’s take the action quickly morphs between the present day and a group of drunken wedding party revellers who are reluctant to hear him, and a reincarnation of his voyage through uncharted seas.

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If you don’t know the poem the story might be a little hard to follow, and the narrative we get doesn’t do much to help the audience along. But it doesn’t matter. Mariner is closer to dance than what one might think of as a traditional play. The action is mainly in the movement, though the lines of the poem, declared by the whole company, but mainly by the Mariner himself (Calum Blackie) are powerful and inspiring.

The cast, as is often the case with Playbox productions, is huge, made up of young performers mainly in their teens. They made full use of Playbox’s wonderful theatre space. The choreography was amazing, the players shifting in costume and posture like water in the wake of a ship. No-one played a minor role, though the figure of death / the albatross (Amelie Friess) that haunts the poor ship and the Mariner were outstanding. Amile Friess has that rare quality, the ability to fully occupy a huge stage with just a glance. It’s something impossible to define, one of those ‘you know it when you see it’ phenomena. It is very exciting.

But this show isn’t about stars, bright though they were. Every player, on stage or in the backstage crew, played a vital part, whether in the chorus or in a more up-front role. Toby and Emily Quash, as the writer and director respectively, have done yet another amazing job in melding the various elements of performance together. They understand the dynamics of their material and the resources at their command and how to turn them into something magical, better than just about anyone in theatre in this, or I’ll bet, any other region.

If you like your theatre to tell a straightforward tale, with dialogue up front and recognisable characters, then maybe this show isn’t for you. Mariner is an overwhelming, sometimes confusing spectacle, full of energy and colour, which in less gifted hands would not have worked. But it did, and it was exquisite.

If I have a complaint, it is that the show was on for only a short run, June 17 to 19. So I’ll just urge the company to consider restaging it at some time. Because it really is something rather special.

For tickets to Playbox shows and other information see playboxtheatre.com