Libertalia at the Golden Hinde
Somewhere between immersive theatre, a “create your own story” type adventure and mild tedium, lies Libertalia. Cleverly set aboard the The Golden Hinde – a replica of the infamous galleon captioned by Sir Francis Drake, stationed just behind Borough Market – the promenade production has all the makings of something great. Over the course of the next few hours, however, it becomes increasingly clear it just doesn’t quite know what it’s doing.
Written by Gary Lockley and adapted from Captain Charles Johnson’s A General History of the Pyrates, the piece follows the story of four pirate captains – Anne Bonney, Jack Rackham, Charles Vane and William Kidd – as they wage war in a quest to establish a free nation, with justice for all. Members of the audience are each assigned a pirate leader and following a rousing introduction by Kidd (played by David West), are led in three groups through separate doors on the ship, for the first of many briefing sessions. You are encouraged to eavesdrop on conversations and look for clues in a bid to help your captain in their endeavour, setting the stage for what looks like an exciting bit of theatre. What follows, however, is a borderline tedious cycle of awkward mingling with fellow audience members, then reporting back repeatedly. While the constant socialising does become decidedly more enjoyable as the evening progresses (conversations likely won’t be limited to the play alone), the monotonous routine of walking, talking and debriefing becomes increasingly less exciting, once one realises this is essentially all that happens. The thrill of sleuthing also loses its novelty, as it’s never made clear just what it is we’re supposed to be looking for. This is thankfully broken up by fleeting key moments of action that occur on various parts of the ship, and that rely on the viewers quite literally following in order to move the story along.
The Golden Hinde is undeniably the star of the show, with the grand vessel providing the ultimate backdrop for the performance. The actors make good use of the space, and there are plenty of opportunities for the audience to have a wander themselves. The cast are committed and frequently interact with both the spectators and each other, further helping to set the scene. Patrick Strain as Jack Rackham is a standout, and commands attention whether centre stage or not. His enthusiastic rendition of a famous folk song – which we can’t help but join in with – is a particular highlight. Nathalia Campbell-Smith (Anne Bonney), DK Ugonna (Charles Vane) and West, all also pull out strong performances and guide theatregoers through the action with ease.
Less “arrr!” and more “meh”, Libertalia has potential and with some tweaking could be brilliant. Instead, it’s all a little underwhelming. For a play about pirates set on an actual ship, it can’t help but feel like an opportunity wasted.
Libertalia is at the Golden Hinde from 15th August until 5th September 2019. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.