Review: Tales from a Sea Journey

New International Encounter (NIE) is a collaborative theatre company that has been taking its actors from different countries and traditions since 2001, creating innovative and entertaining pieces of theatre unlike most other groups. Actors hail from Norway, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Poland, and the UK to name just a few. In Tales from a Sea Journey, the company bring to life nautical tales from times gone by, whilst entwining it with their own journey when they crossed the Atlantic on a container ship.

A simple set consisting of two ladders with a net strung between, and various other novelty items strewn across the stage, immediately invites the audience to explore the stories and suggests that this production may not be the script-driven discipline you usually see. Projections of waves and holiday snaps are accompanied by a combination of recorded and live sound – an approaching ship is summoned into the imagination by the clever use of an accordion. As we were told in the following Q&A session, some of the items onstage were in fact from scenes that didn’t make the final cut, but were too sentimental to destroy completely. One such discarded story was that of a little bleached rubber duck, which had floated for eight years over the oceans, spending five crossing Alaska, after a container filled with bath toys fell overboard.

However, the three stories that were included in the performance (four if you include the actors’ own experiences) provided everything an audience could want. Humour at the plight of a captain in the 1940s, left drifting after his ship came under attack until finally landing on the shores of Java; sadness as we listen to the tale of Ella, the little fisher girl from Norway, whose true love was the sea; and a spark of romance when a maths teacher, taking her first trip on a boat to cross to Greenland in order to teach Danish children, falls under the spell of a sailor.

The six-strong cast (Elisabet Topp, Jiří N.Jelínek, Kieran Edwards, Margit Szlavik, Robert Orr, and Elke Laleman) kept the play light and fluid, adding their own improvisations in when things went a little awry, and they weren’t afraid to have a laugh on stage. Though some theatre-goers might consider breaking out of character to be a faux pas on the stage, NIE use it as a way to keep their audience involved in the story, and the actors have the freedom to move with the flow of reactions. Edwards’ unexpected problem of getting water in his eye led him to play the remainder of his scene as a pirate – something the spectators revelled in as it drew out the comedy further.

In a production that seemed more like animated story telling than ‘normal’ theatre, NIE strive to change the way performance is seen and build a closer relationship with their audiences. Eliminating the fear of laughing out loud and joining in with the onstage banter sets them apart as a unique and creative company. Tales From a Sea Journey is the first to include the actors’ own experiences too, and this all proves to be a winning combination for an incredibly successful show.

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