Spike Theatre’s new play is a comic tale of survival set on the 18th century high seas, Shaun Mason tells Laura Davis
THERE’S just a month to go before Sink or Swim opens at the Playhouse Studio and the cast have only just begun creating it. They know it’s going to be about three shipwrecked men floating alone in a boat with a single oar, but beyond that it’s all up for grabs.
On the first day of rehearsals, 27-year-old actor Shaun Mason is excitably enthusing about the process, which is relatively new to him.
Having most recently starred as Buttons in the Liverpool Empire’s Christmas production of Cinderella and, before that, as Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Royal Court, he is more used to scripted plays.
Sink or Swim will have a script, written by Liverpool playwright Robert Farquhar (Kissing Sid James, Dead Heavy Fantastic, Bad Jazz), who will develop the scenes that were improvised by the cast during early rehearsals.
“It’s all very quick,” says Mason.
“We’re going to have to be on the ball and be as brave and creative as you can be and hope it all comes together.
“I’m not as familiar to devising as the rest of the company. I did some in college and you always improvise bits in any script but this is a bit of a new one for me. I’ll just have to trust I can do it. It’s quite exciting. I’m quite nervous about it, I have to admit.”
A rough version of Sink or Swim was performed last year at Everyword, the Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse’s festival of new writing.
“We watched a video of it this morning and it’s always weird watching a theatre production like that because you lose all sense of atmosphere,” says Mason.
“We cringed a bit but it was nice to get a good flavour of what we had and can build on it.”
Directed by Spike Theatre’s artistic director Mark Smith, with Spymonkey’s Toby Park as co-director and composer, the play is set in the 18th century when a ship heading for America comes under attack.
When icy dawn breaks, three men find themselves sharing a lifeboat, with only each other to rely on for survival.
“I’m playing a young officer who, because he’s the most upper class highest ranking officer who’s survived, he takes it upon himself to be the captain,” says Mason.
“We’re playing on the idea that he’s really young and inexperienced. Last year, I pitched it somewhere around Kenneth Williams and played with the idea that he’s quite effete and doesn’t quite fit in with the other two ruffians onboard. But it’s a work in progress so it could change.”
The show is expected to incorporate puppetry and physical theatre as well an original score, inspired by sea shanties.
“We need to decided whether we end up in fantasy land with mermaids or go down a more realistic road,” says Mason, who recently filmed an episode for the new series of BBC drama Luther, which involved Idris Elba dangling him over a balcony.
“I think it could pretty much encompass every cliche of maritime story telling. We’ve been watching Mutiny on the Bounty and Master and Commander to get some idea of what life was like then, with the biscuits and the weevils and the rum.”
Although he’s enthusiastic about pretending to be shipwrecked, in real life he is no born survivor.
“I’d be rubbish,” he admits.
“I’m useless without my home comforts. I was bad enough this morning because it was snowing and I had to get up and put two pairs of trousers on I was that cold. I wouldn’t survive a minute. They’d probably sacrifice me to save themselves.”
SINK or Swim premieres at the Liverpool Playhouse from February 18-23 before touring venues including the Valley Theatre, Liverpool, from March 6-7, the Rose Theatre, Ormskirk, on March 14 and The Citadel, St Helens, on March 16.