On Saturday 19 December 1981, the Penlee lifeboat ‘Solomon Browne’ was launched in hurricane conditions to go to the aid of the stricken coaster ‘Union Star’. The events of that fateful night will live long in the memory of the Cornish village of Mousehole. Forty years later, Original Theatre Company (in association with Michael Sagar-Fenton, author of ‘Penlee: The Loss of a Lifeboat’) bring this remarkable story to the digital stage.
Originally intended to be performed and streamed live on Saturday 18 December 2021, ahead of an on-demand run in January, the production hit a first snag when two cast members tested positive for Covid-19. With the cast unable to perform as intended, the livestream instead used footage from the previous day’s dress rehearsal. Sickness has also affected the release of the edited, on-demand version, but the wait is finally over and the production is now available to stream online (in the UK and internationally) until 20 February 2022. Check out the trailer below then read on to find out what we thought of this ambitious theatrical interpretation of one of the most daring attempted rescues in RNLI history.
As you might expect of a company called ‘Original Theatre Company’, this is no ordinary piece of theatre. Blending techniques from film and theatre, it’s very much a hybrid piece of work which is not quite a play nor a film, but an interesting mash-up of the two. Given the heavy use of narration, it actually feels rather like a dramatic documentary and it’s moving in more ways than one; it may be filmed in a small space in a single take but it’s far more than just a stage production captured by a static camera. The action moves between multiple locations, including the homes of the crew, the lifeboat station, the coastguard’s office, the helm of several ships and even the helicopter hovering above the ill-fated vessels. Incredibly impressive camera work effectively captures the feel of each location, even managing to emulate the motion of the stormy sea so well that it actually made Mummy feel a bit queasy. (Mrs Mummy is made of sterner stuff!) And as the plight of the Solomon Browne starts to become and more desperate, it is almost impossible not to be moved by the story that unfolds on screen.
Although there are some well-known names within the cast of eight (the same number that made up the crew of the Penlee lifeboat), this is fittingly very much an ensemble piece with everyone switching between narration and a range of roles as they tell the tale of the courageous crew and their Cornish community. Though it’s not perfect in delivery (understandably given the circumstances) this gives it a very human feel. There is also some lovely use of folk music to enhance the story and we would have liked to hear more of this; there is rather a lot of narration which we felt might have been better in the form of song (but that’s very much a personal preference, coming from a household with strong musical theatre leanings).
Overall, Into the Night is an ambitious and moving piece of work which honours the lives of an extraordinary group of ordinary people. An incredible tale of courage and resilience, it’s a story that deserves never to be forgotten and serves as a reminder of the amazing work still done by the brave volunteers of the RNLI, who risk their own lives in an attempt to save those of strangers.
Into the Night is available to stream on demand from 12 January to 20 February 2022. We received complimentary press access in return for a review.
Image credit: Helen Maybanks