Once Were Pirates tells the story of Shane and Gareth (James Cook and Ben Clements), two pirates who become marooned in modern society and must struggle to discover their place within it. While Gareth goes out into the world to find work and make friends, Shane finds the transition more difficult, raising the question of whether it is truly possible to change who you are.
The decision to classify this work as a comedy was an odd one. Its listing in the Fringe guide has you expecting something on the broad and farcical side – two old-fashioned pirates attempting to make sense of the modern world, trying to leave their violent ways behind them. What ‘One Were Pirates’ delivers is something very different. Whilst the show does have humorous moments, the conceit of pirates living in the modern world is used less for comedic effect and more to explore themes of masculinity and self-image in an abstract way. The laughs are too few and far between for this to feel like an out-and-out comedy. The dramatic aspects of the story are what really drive it forward. But this is not in any way to say that the show is disappointing – far from it.
Genre aside, this is a fantastic show. Cook and Clements’ performances are both subtle and powerful. The friendship they create on the stage is heartwarming and complex. Each of the characters is well-realised. Cook’s Shane has a vulnerable lovability that you wouldn’t expect from a pirate. Clements’ Gareth is an artful portrayal of a man desperately trying to leave his past behind him. One scene where he becomes enraged is genuinely shocking and unsettling. Emilie Collyer’s script is wonderful. Her characters may sometimes speak in metaphor, but her words are clear and incisive. This is no doubt in part due to the skillful direction of Daniel Czech. The set design is clever, the costuming spot-on. There is nothing letting the team down here. Every aspect of this show works together to create something special.
Once Were Pirates is a terrific piece of theatre that will leave you thinking about it long after you leave your seat.
Once Were Pirates is showing at Northcote Town Hall – Studio 2 at 7pm until September 28.