World Premiere: Ambition Leads to Rough Waters in The Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst

In 1969, nine men set off on what was at the time the first round-the-world yacht race. A widely covered event, the Sunday Times Golden Globe Race excited the public at large. And Donald Crowhurst was among those caught up in the excitement. Crowhurst, an amateur sailor, sought to defy the odds and capture victory against well-seasoned competitors. The Teignmouth Electron, a boat of Crowhurst’s own design, would be the vessel to deliver Crowhurst to the finish line.

Crowhurst did not return home.

It is this story of ambition, the pursuit of greatness, that Alberta Theatre Projects, in association with Ghost River Theatre, stages in The Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst.

Written by David van Belle & Eric Rose, with Rose directing, The Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst is concerned with the fine line between ambition and obsession. There is nothing particularly special about Crowhurst (Braden Griffiths). He is a husband and father of four who runs a small, failing business. What sets Crowhurst apart is his astounding confidence in that he is destined for greatness. And he makes us believe it too with his grandiose speeches.

But failure looms on the horizon when Crowhurst’s boat experiences serious issues during the race, and an unexpected storm wreaks havoc on the vessel. Failure, though, does not mean simple defeat. In exchange for the necessary funds to construct his boat, Crowhurst signed a deal with the condition that should he lose the race he will have to pay everything back in full. For Crowhurst, failure means the total loss of everything he and his family owns.

And that is why Crowhurst sees no other option than to cheat by falsifying his race progress.

The presentation of Crowhurst’s story is fascinating with its use of video projection and live effects. The production features creative techniques like filming Crowhurst and his wife Clare (Vanessa Sabourin) standing against two separate ‘beds’, then joining the images together on-screen to show them lying in the same bed. As well, documentary footage of the real-life Crowhurst overlaps on-screen with Griffiths’ portrayal. And, the play’s first act ends with a violent storm on stage where large sheets simulate waves and buckets of water drench Griffiths.

Unfortunately, the first act is where the excitement ends. The production runs dry in its second act where an otherwise compelling human drama becomes a disjointed bore.

One specific offense is the scene where Crowhurst meets an Argentinian couple who he asks to help him in the way of supplies. The humour attempted here falls flat, and little happens to justify the scene’s inclusion. The scene stalls the pace of the play.

From where the play starts to where it ends is a significant distance. After the initial awe produced by the first act’s visual feats, one realizes there is not much else carrying the show. And certainly a part of that is the challenge of what do you do when your main character is stranded miles away from human contact? Van Belle and Rose do their best to make the journey to Crowhurst’s final moments interesting, but the path there is one that not even the biggest smoke and mirrors could disguise what it really is: a disappointment.

The Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst is an ambitious, visually stunning production that ultimately disappoints due to weak characterization and a less-than satisfying second act.


Alberta Theatre Projects’ The Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst, in association with Ghost River Theatre, ran at The Martha Cohen Theatre, February 24 – March 14, 2015. 

For more information about the show, visit: http://www.atplive.com/2014-2015-Season/Last-Voyage/index.html

 

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