Shropshire Events and Whats On Guide

Shropshire Events and Whats On Guide

Theatre Review : Atlantic Ladies

Paul Higgins reviews ‘Atlantic Ladies’ which can be seen at the Market Drayton Festival Centre on Thursday 4 October


Funny and poignant, uplifting and inspirational, Chris Eldon Lee’s ‘Atlantic

Ladies’ is a triumph of theatrical storytelling. This inventive production is more

than an entertaining show, it is an event marking an achievement of three

women with an average age of 57 years, who, without prior experience, decided

to ‘do something crazy’ by rowing across the Atlantic.


The challenge for any dramatisation of real events is to shape them and Eldon

Lee does this superbly. In the first half we discover how and why Elaine Theaker,

Sharon McGrath and Di Carrington came together and took their decision and

then all of the challenges and problems which ensued. The second half sets out

the experience of actually rowing three thousand miles across the ocean, with

the physical stresses and dangers, but also the captivating moments and times of

reflection. The story is lively and engrossing throughout, with innovative staging

and excellent use of sound, lighting and back projection.


Music and songs are an outstanding feature. Snippets from musical themes

punctuate the scenes with intelligence and humour. The singing is excellent,

often with harmonies, and the musicianship is exceptional, with Brian Carrington

and Sally Tonge both being mean finger picking guitarists. The ‘Flying Fish’

routine was a highlight and had the audience tapping feet!


Any drama, however, rests on its characters. The performances are excellent,

being given with great energy and conviction, and there was a palpable feeling of

community between actors and audience. Eldon Lee has captured three

sympathetic and multi-layered women. Christina Cubbin is stylish and intelligent

as Elaine, showing someone who is strong on the outside, (she calls herself a

‘rottweiler’) but also a woman who has to overcome problems and moments of

fear. Jo Cox creates a Di who has leadership, humour and sensitivity. Sally Tonge

is outstanding as Sharon: her performance is physically committed and yet also

at times deeply spiritual. Most of the other characters are played by Tim Baker,

who gives a bravura performance as among others Justin the boat builder, Thor

(the Scandinavian Race Doctor) and a magnificent Whitney Huston.


The set is imaginative, the props are clever and the costumes effective, with the

back of a t shirt at one point helpfully becoming a map of the route. The dance

sequences are well choreographed. The movement and mime are strong and

work powerfully in a dramatic storm sequence.


Chris Eldon Lee has had access to the characters who experienced the actual

events, so in the writing he has been able to include detail which is remarkable

and compelling. At the end, this link between life and the stage is made in a

striking and unexpected way as the real Di lined up with the actors to take a bow.

In drama we talk of searching for ‘truth’ in performance. Well in one clear sense here it was.

The audience gave a deserved standing ovation!


Paul Higgins MA (Cantab), RSC Education Tutor, the Prince of Wales Shakespeare School