Icy wilderness shapes a tragi-comedy
Northcott Theatre, Exeter, Thursday and Friday; Acorn, Penzance, January 19
Imagine a man desperately fighting for survival in a bleakly beautiful frozen landscape. In serious television documentary territory, this would be the domain of a macho Ray Mears or Bear Grylls character, dodging danger and triumphing against the odds using superior knowledge and skills, while periodically waxing lyrical to camera about his achievements. Put the scenario in the hands of some of Cornwall's most accomplished and passionate comic actors and writers and you have the foundation for a tragi-comic riot of delightful dottiness.
Alaska, premiering at the Northcott this week before touring, is just such a beast. It's the creation of Black Fish, a new company set up by Kneehigh stalwart Giles King, a seasoned performer in search of an outlet for his own brooding ideas, and a man on a mission to continue the excellent reputation of brave grassroots Cornish theatre.
"I have been wanting to do my own work for quite a while now and Alaska is basically my idea," says Giles. "I got really interested in all those documentaries about bushcraft; I wanted to do a tragi-comedy set in minus 40C involving a guy who goes to Alaska in search of the wilderness.... and then, of course, it all goes horribly wrong."
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Plummeting temperatures, technical disasters, and a severe lack of any practical skills whatsoever soon plunge our hero into a nightmarish world of extreme survival, haunted by all things living and dead. Film, firelight, shadow, a host of forest wildlife and a fabulous soundtrack will add to the magic and atmosphere.
Taking one of the two lead acting role himself, artistic director Giles has harnessed the clownish performance genius of Craig Johnson, founder of Squashbox Theatre, to co-star as the semi-spiritual embodiment of Alaskan wisdom and tradition. And he has engaged the writing prowess of Carl Grose to put the show's plot and themes into wise, witty and wonderful words.