From the moment the audience were guided to their seats by the unmistakably eerie melody of the seaman’s shanty, to the moment they rose from them one hour later, New International Encounter captured most poignantly the magic that so often lures us to the sea. The show recounts the voyage that the group undertook in order to gain inspiration for the production, namely, a 10 day crossing of the Atlantic Ocean on a cargo ship travelling from Le Havre to Guadeloupe. Whilst the audience is warmly invited to join the group on their own expedition, the actors began to recount the tales that make up the evening’s traffic of the stage. The first of which concerns a young Norwegian named Ella; who, having been swept from her feet by the waves at infancy, falls deeper in love with the sea as time goes on. The next, Elizabeth Ginsburg, the beautiful yet innocent young Maths teacher whose journey across the North Sea proves eventful in more ways than one and finally the epic of Captain Mattisen, whose ship is torpedoed by the Japanese, leaving him floating in the Indian Ocean with only his hallucinations for company. All of these wonderful tales were performed in such a way that the cast made it comically obvious that they were re-enacting these scenes. Occasionally they would break role in order to undercut or remark upon their own narration before immersing the audience once more in their accounts.
Despite the intricacy and appeal presented by the characters, whose lives are re-enacted by a cast with the unique ability to turn even the most irrelevant of anecdotes into a moment of side-splitting comedy, it is the richly international nature of the piece that gives it such a tangible texture. The cast itself comprises individuals from all over the world and so it was fitting that this show used the various different languages at their disposal in order to add a sense of authenticity and culture to the enchanting sagas. In addition to this, the actors combined the use of abstract props and physical theatre to create wonderfully vivid settings; the sound of the waves breaking against the shore created with nothing more than a pair of microphones. Indeed, the very magic of the play was born from the ability of the cast to use these techniques to switch effortlessly between moments of quite raw emotion to those of rib-tickling humour. Moreover, what made this emotional oscillation even more poignant was the fact that it was coupled with the mystery of the wide open sea; and its own tendency to undulate between fury and calm.
It is easy to see why, as the troop marks its ten-year anniversary, this innovative, resourceful and creative group continues to thrive in the world of theatre. Aside from their work on stage however, NIE is renowned across Europe for being a group that is extraordinarily committed to the education of young people. Their many workshops, drama courses and seminars have indeed gained international acclaim for the quality of their work. One can only hope therefore that Sevenoaks might once again have the good fortune to see this band of diversely talented actors grace the boards of the Sackville Theatre.
Thursday 17 November 2011
by Andy Waldron