REVIEW: Another great effort as Henfield Theatre Company tells epic tale

Hilary Westlake
Hilary Westlake

Terra Nova, Henfield Theatre Company, Henfield Hall

A powerful depiction by Graeme Muncer of Robert Falcon Scott’s self-doubt and sense of failure was the highlight of the play Terra Nova, staged by Henfield Theatre Company.

Produced as a brilliant debut by Trevor Hodgson, the story is of an epic walk across a frozen wilderness in temperatures of -40c with equipment that was no more than canvas and fur.

The play is set during the final weeks of the journey to the South Pole and the return struggle. The events occur just before the horrors of the First World War and within weeks of the Titanic disaster.

It explores the 1,600-mile trek to the South Pole using reference from the diaries left by Scott and his men – and it culminates in the tragic end to their return journey.

The scenes slide from poignant episodes during the icebound trek, to Scott and his wife Kathleen reading from their diaries – and Scott’s delirious conversations with himself.

There are imagined exchanges with either Kathleen or with the nemesis of rival Amundsen whose team had beaten the British to the Pole.

Kathleen, played by Anne Henderson, drifted delicately into and from the scenes of her own diary readings or into ethereal transmissions with her husband Scott.

Nigel Atkinson was brilliantly cast as the haunting figure of Amundsen – calculating, ruthless, with insufferable self-confidence and sneering disdain for the sentimentally-driven British effort.

Atkinson also neatly played other brief roles.

Scott’s team members were successfully played by Nick Cryer as the famously sacrificing and dependable Lawrence ‘Titus’ Oates, John Coit as the imperturbable navigator Bowers and Digby Stephenson as the doctor and mediator. Tony Westwood played Taff Evans whose hand injury contributed to the failure of the expedition.

The stage set was simple and chilling and the costumes authentic. The use of occasional background image projections was a successful complement to the foreground and the howling wind effects gave a sense of the Antarctic bleakness. However, Scott’s team should perhaps have been more unshaven and more bedraggled and colder.

Another great effort by the Henfield Theatre Company production team.