The Pirate Project Ahoy me hearties, ahh-haar!

The Pirate Project

Ahoy me hearties, step aboard shipmates and prepare yourself for sword fights, cross dressing and a lot of manic “Ahh-haar”s! The Pirate Project plays with a new concept, namely a feminist exploration of modern day living in relation to our inner rebels and subconscious pirates… but it doesn’t work. However, you will discover your inner pirate, which is always a bonus. At the Ovalhouse Theatre. 


Ahoy me hearties! Tis I, Captain Jo the Awful. Ahh-haaar!! Embracing the style of The Pirate Project, the first play in the Ovalhouse’s Outlaws season, I have dutifully unleashed my own inner pirate, who has taken over this review… and in true pirate form, this new (and nastier) Jo will take the helm and offer a frank opinion. Savvy, shipmates?

The Pirate Project draws parallels between 21st century modern day women and historical female pirates, all on a voyage of self-discovery. The trio of actresses play three contemporary thirty-six year old women (incidentally, they look a LOT younger) and their pirate counterparts of the past; Anne Bonny, Mary Read and Ching Shih. The concept, namely a feminist exploration of modern day living and innate piratehood, could work… but this production unfortunately doesn’t. We are told to ‘expect sword fights, theatrical storms and cross dressing aplenty’ – these promises are delivered, but the sword fights are clumsily choreographed and the ‘theatrical storms’ are essentially three girls shrilly shouting ‘Ha Harrrr’ a lot while stomping around in a haphazard manner. There is some great cross-dressing though; some pretty impressive moustaches.

Chloé Déchery, Lucinka Eisler and Simone Kenyon are fantastically energetic and boldly embody the roguish figures of the maritime world. The three performers have great charisma, chemistry and bounce off one another. Literally. Their combined enthusiasm and pizzazz maintains a healthy pace. Lucinka Eisler stands out due to her overstated facial expressions and prominent stage presence. Chloé Déchery’s has a strong sense of comic timing and her mispronunciation of ‘pirate’ [‘pirate’ in a French accent is ‘parrot’] is a cute choice.

However, the acting overall is not up to the level it should be for a professional production. There are too many monotonous monologues and cardboard characters. I found myself cringing on several occasions, especially during the opening which was obviously uncomfortable for the unwilling victims of forced audience interaction.

Don’t get me wrong. I love pirates! I love dressing up and acting the fool and shouting GAH! ARR-HAA! (I really do), but for the most part of the show, I felt as though I’d walked into a karaoke or stand-up comedy open-mic bar, rather than the professional theatre establishment that you might expect when paying fifteen pieces of eight (or a tenner if you’re under 26). 

Lucy Foster directs with an eye for the absurd and the farcical. She delivers an interesting and original production, despite the weak writing. However, the more serious content is stifled with distracting slapstick and inexorable mania. The cast’s sense of humour is mildly amusing, but unfortunately not infectious. The storyline, although feeble, offers the opportunity to juxtapose the tone of action, but the cast are prevented from adapting to the shifting nature of the scenes due to the overtly frantic approach. The majority of the performance seems created for the pleasure of the performers, rather than for the audience’s entertainment.

The redeeming feature of this show is the interchangeable, versatile and visually striking set, designed by Phillip Eddolls. Essentially the set consists of three screens, which are cleverly constructed to form ships as well as aesthetically pleasing oceanic backdrops. The simple design allows for many charming surprises. I loved the shark!  

Projected images of elderly ladies recalling personal memories and offering advice to women break up the scenes and give us a rest from the incessant action, but the relevance is questionable. Yes, these women comment on womanhood from an older and perhaps wiser perspective, but the material speaks for itself; women everywhere should all embrace their inner rebels, we should all make the most of the lives we lead –the message need not be further reiterated. Plus the projections look out of place and the sound is a little distorted.

At a certain moment, one of the actresses jokingly requests a 4 star review and suggests that negative feedback will result in death (cue a nervous half-giggle). So, at the risk of being forced to walk the plank – sorry, no can do this time. I love the Ovalhouse. It’s a great theatre that often programmes high quality, cutting edge work which has something important to say, butThe Pirate Project does not step up to its usual level of artistic integrity and creative excellence.

Date reviewed: Thursday 17th May 2012

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