The set of this play included a fish tank with a small toy fish that swam around in it. At one point this fish became stuck on a piece of plastic seaweed and struggled to continue on its journey. As I attempted to get past the script’s many metaphors and see what the action on stage was trying to convey, I related a lot to the plight of this trapped fish. The level of attention I paid to that small fish perhaps says all that is needed about this production.
The lack of a focussed singular direction for the show handed these pirates their black mark
Once Were Pirates is the story of two pirates who have somehow ended up lost in the modern day. They struggle making friends, getting jobs and with generally figuring out how they fit into this new world. Sounds like the premise for an absurdist comedy, yet much of the story is told through poetic language laced with far more imagery and attempted allegory than actual content. The play is a device for exploring issues surrounding masculinity in the 21st century. Or was it neoliberal notions of capitalism? Or repression of homosexuality? Perhaps an examination of contemporary morality? It seemed to fall into the trap of attempting to explore far too many issues at once and in doing so explored none of them. This made for a viewing experience which was both bewildering and exhausting at points.
The show, however, wasn’t without its merit; the performances from the two hairy pirates were generally strong. Occasional moments of over-acting aside, their relationship was believable and they brought a sense of genuine emotion to an underwhelming script. Songs were used throughout the show and they provided a welcome break and some calm to the stage. These original songs played on an acoustic guitar by one of the pirates as he sung, these sea shanties were tender and palatable giving real insight into the character.
By the second half of the performance sadly the audience had notably depleted in numbers, and with so many other shows to choose from I can’t say I blame them for moving on. Trying to tackle big questions though theatre is admirable, it is often what makes art great. However, on this occasion the lack of a focussed singular direction for the show handed these pirates their black mark. Although I doubt you’ll see a more engaging fish-tank based set piece anywhere else this festival.