Into the Night at Original Theatre online
As we venture out of a shaky Christmas and step tentatively into the new year, Original Theatre Company bring a timely but old-fashioned piece of theatre on demand. Into the Night marks the 40th anniversary of the Penlee Lifeboat disaster, and is the true story of a community of volunteers who went to the furthest lengths of courage to save a crew of sailors. Available to watch on their YouTube channel, the piece is written as a compelling hybrid of theatre and film, but the storytelling hasn’t aged well.
The standout elements of the production are the set design and camerawork. The creative team, spearheaded by Michael Pavelka and North South camera direction, build an incredible, immersive world. The viewer feels that they are right there inside a rescue helicopter one moment and struggling against the waves inside a lifeboat the next. The attention to detail and to perspective is remarkable; it is rare to see theatre translate so well to film, and it makes for a captivating audience experience.
Alongside the design, the script aids the illusion nicely, for the most part. The play is based on an original book by Michael Sagar-Fenton, whose work has been adapted for this stage and screen hybrid by playwright Frazer Flintham. The strength of the work lies in the deep research carried out by Flintham, and the years of knowledge held by Sagar-Fenton. Radio dialogue sails back and forth between boat crews, coastguards, and helicopter pilots. It is fascinating for a layperson to witness this communication, and to see all the work and coordination that goes into lifesaving operations. However, the script is let down by the narration, which is informative but tedious. The action-packed second act offers the viewer much greater emotional investment than the first, which drags on.
Experiencing an ensemble-led piece of theatre as a work of cinema is compelling. Theatre is often rooted in ensemble, but cinema can be more individual: there is something refreshing about watching a group of actors multirole as a slick, tight-knit team on a digital platform. While some members of the cast are more natural, understated storytellers than others, the beauty of the piece lies in the creation of a flourishing whole.
It is a shame, however, that overall the production feels dated. The sense of tragedy is effective, but the narrative of male heroism is based in a more militaristic, patriotic society. To give credit to the writer, the end of the play deals with the messiness of the situation and the narrators tell how real heroism is not what propaganda would have us believe. Yet the bulk of the plot celebrates male bravery in a way that feeds into the very same wartime ideals it claims to dismiss, giving the play a moral tone that takes away from the complex, awful humanity of a true story.
Photo: Helen Maybanks
Into the Night is streaming via Original Theatre online from 6th January until 30th January 2022. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.
Watch a trailer for the production here: