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A CurtainUp Review
Tom Crean: Antarctic Explorer
By Julia Furay
Tom Crean: Antarctic Explorer is an old-fashioned, swashbuckling adventure about the Antarctic in the early 20th century, which is now dubbed the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration. Crean took part in two of that era's most famous expeditions: Terra Nova and Endurance, each of which is given its own act. Since Crean never kept a diary, the play serves as the memoir he never wrote himself.
Tom Crean is more of a storytelling than a theatrical experience so it's a good thing that Dooley is such an appealing tale-teller. The show's educational rootsas a 15-minute Living Exhibit at London's Maritime History Museum have left their mark on the play. As Dooley details and demonstrates what exactly it was like as an Antarctic explorer, one begins to get the sense of being at an interactive museum exhibit.
When Dooley segues into Crean's actual adventures, however, the story becomes incredibly involving and exciting. Crean served under two of the more charismatic explorers of the day, and brought incredible stories from both experiences. The first act is about the tragic Terra Nova expedition in which Captain Robert Scott lost his life in a futile attempt to be the first to the South Pole. Tom Crean was sent back to base camp when were only 150 miles left to go, but his journey was was nearly as deadly as his commander's.
The second act brings an even livelier tale: Irish explorer Ernest Shackleton's disastrous attempt to traverse Antarctica itself. He and Crean ended up slogging through 800 miles of icy waters in a life raft and hiking through the glaciers of South Georgia to reach civilization.
This play is so unapologetically dependent on its storyteller that there's no credit for a director, set or costume designer. All of the credit (and all of the blame) here is to go to Aidan Dooley. Thankfully, Dooley has relied on his strengths as a storyteller and actor. He gives us a fascinating history lesson that brings the dangers and glories of another era to life.
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