A World Beyond Man

In 1912, Captain Georgy Brusilov sailed to the Arctic. Having been imprisoned by the polar ice for eighteen months, navigator Valerian Albanov left the ship with thirteen others and set off across the ice in search of land. A World Beyond Man is Stephanie Dale’s adaptation of this remarkable true story, brought to brilliant life by Cassian Wheeler and director Peter Cann.

The stage is bathed in cold, steely light and the chill is reinforced by Derek Nesbit’s wonderfully sparse sound design: quiet dissonant strings and metallic whistles contribute perfectly to the Arctic ambience.

Albanov (Wheeler) sits on a low wooden bed surrounded by chests and sheets, poles and pieces of wood: nautical artifacts from a failed expedition. Using these simple items, he tells us his story. It encompasses snow blindness, delirium and the odd polar bear, a portrait of a man determined to survive no matter how much the odds are stacked against him.

Wheeler is compelling. He differentiates between Albanov and other members of the expedition with ease: a change of accent or a subtle adjustment of posture is all that it takes for us to be transfixed by his storytelling. Albanov is portrayed as both a strong leader and a vulnerable individual in a wonderfully multifaceted performance that resonates well after the show finishes.

Wheeler glows with warm passion in an otherwise icy room. The stage is bathed in cold, steely light and the chill is reinforced by Derek Nesbit’s wonderfully sparse sound design: quiet dissonant strings and metallic whistles contribute perfectly to the Arctic ambience. The space shivers with life and whilst things aren’t quite as bleak as the title of Albanov’s published diaries In the Land of White Death would suggest, there is a palpable sense of isolation created by the use of space and sound.

Excerpts from Albanov’s diaries are occasionally read, although they seem somewhat surplus to requirements. The notion that Albanov would read odd sentences from his own memoir when he seems perfectly happy to simply tell us his story the rest of the time is bizarre; the production is compelling enough without constantly needing to remind us of its ‘based on a true story’ credentials.

Having said that, A World Beyond Man should be praised for bringing this heroic and little known historical tale to light. Whilst the text doesn’t always hit the spot, Wheeler’s performance more than makes up for it. An impressive debut production from an exciting new company.

Reviews by Sam Forbes

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The Blurb

‘Captain Brusilov underestimated the Kara Sea and by October 15th 1912, the Saint Anna had become trapped in the ice. We survived the first winter well, but the following summer came and went without any prospect of a thaw. The second winter was brutal and we had to concede we were trapped’. Based on a true story, A World Beyond Man is the tale of Valerian Albanov. His is a saga of determination and betrayal; of man against savage nature. An intimate telling of an epic story of ice and polar bears and determination and betrayal.

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