A COMIC shipping forecast which acts as a prologue to Sink or Swim predicts “silliness and occasional guffaws” ahead. That’s about right.
The Liverpool theatre company Spike Theatre has been producing this sort of work for the last 15 years, making great comedy out of limited resources thanks to a lot of imagination and talent.
This time they have sent three 19th Century seamen adrift in an open boat following a mutiny and observed what happens.
There are quarrels, occasional visits by sea creatures, some singing, disasters and the promised silliness.
There is also a subtle commentary on class divisions, classic seafaring tales are referenced and survivalist techniques explored.
Given that the three are confined throughout the play’s 75 minutes in a single on- stage wooden boat, it is a busy show with plenty of activity.
Its main weakness is that – like the boat – it does not seem to get anywhere.
While the voyage lasts, however, it has a sense of fun that carries it along thanks to the performances of the three characters.
There is posh officer Gideon played in upright fashion by Shaun Mason, a blustering Able Seaman Jim Black from bearded Paul Duckworth in menacing mood and simple minded Swab Hand Bottle from a delightfully jolly Graham Geoffrey Hicks.
As with many Spike Theatre shows there are theatre tricks: the opening mutiny scene is played out in silhouette, the sinking with cut-out models and a full size albatross puppet makes an appearance as does a fearful squid (or, at least, the tentacles).
But for the main part, the action depends on the clash of personalities and comic wordplay. With only a bottle of rum, a small flagon of water, a box of weevil-infested biscuits and a single oar, the prospects for survival are remote.
Even so, Officer Gideon demands a table from which to eat his “breakfast”. Jim Black is more inclined to cannibalism while Bottle starts to lose his bottle.
The show was devised by the company including director Mark Smith while Robert Farquhar was responsible for the final script. There are some weak gags (the mention of an oar gets the comment “awesome”) and moments when comic situations are played too long (Jim Black even comments about “over-egging the pudding”).
The company’s vitality and inventiveness, however, overcome such weaknesses and performances are always humour-driven. Paul Duckworth is on particularly strong form and his fellow actors not far behind.
Musical director Simon James offers some suitably salty music and designer Kevin Pollard a basic but useful set.
This may not be Spike Theatre’s strongest touring show but it remains an enjoyable voyage.