JUNE 2023 | Volume 228
Tom Crean - Antarctic Explorer
by Aiden Dooley
Billy Bishop Legion Theatre
1407 Laburnum St.
Tom Crean, born in County Kerry, Ireland, enlisted in the Royal Navy so young that he had to lie about his age to the recruiting officers. Showing exceptional strength, smarts, and conviction, he emerged as a prominent figure in three major British expeditions to the Antarctic in the early 1900s. For the past twelve years, Irish performer and writer Aiden Dooley has been touringhis solo show Tom Crean: Antarctic Explorer, portraying the remarkable character of Crean. Through oral accounts of his survival, the production breathes life into this lesser-known figure.
The minimal set design features key equipment used during the historic voyages of the era. Entering with an oil lantern, Dooley quickly establishes a confident rapport as Crean, demonstrating and discussingthe significance of layering clothing appropriately to endure the freezing temperatures without sweating. This interactive introduction begins to paint vivid pictures of the territory’s extreme conditions.
Dooley embodies the explorer throughout the show’s uninterrupted 80-minutes with impressive ease. Detailing harrowing details fromthe Discovery, Terra Nova, and Endurance expeditions, he recounts experiences such as hauling sleds weighing four times his body weight, sliding down perilous ice crevasses, assisting an ailing officer afflicted with scurvy and snow blindness, and embarking on a 40-mile solo journey with only a bar of chocolate and a few biscuits for sustenance in search of rescue for his crew. These are just a few of the feats fromonly one of Crean’s voyages. The man’s multiple journeys are delivered in a natural anecdotal tone with tremendous energy.
A memorable line that says something like, "at any moment we could die, but we had fun," encapsulates the show's mix of gripping storytelling with playful banter. Dooley combines the indomitable spirit of the historical figure with tongue-in-cheek acknowledgment of his lesser recognition compared to his higher-ranking British officers. Accounts from the published books of his more renowned counterparts are often referenced only to be humorously challenged with his own version ofevents. The emphasis on Crean's unassuming nature and sharp wit provides an engaging element to the narrative, while also shedding light on the resilience that played a pivotal role in his survival and that of others.
In moments of reflection, Crean contemplates his eagerness to face arduous conditions, especially after close brushes with death and the loss of fellow explorers. There’s a rich underlayer there but the strength of the show largely rests on his bringing the hardships of his voyages to life.Tom Crean: Antarctic Explorer is a piece of engaging storytelling that captures the bravery, loyalty, and unwavering endurance of the Irish sailor and explorer with boundless admiration and restless stamina.
Reviewed by Angie Rico
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