We are in Cornwall, forty years ago, on the 19 December 1981. A lifeboat in Penlee Station answers a distress call, but never returned, with the loss of sixteen lives.
This is a moment by moment dramatisation and piece of storytelling to mark the anniversary, using actual recordings from the time, and a eight-strong cast who play multiple roles. It takes its inspiration from Michael Sagar-Fenton’s book Penlee: The Loss of a Lifeboat.
Frazer Flintham’s script, directed by Alastair Whatley, moves between narration and actuality, and imaginatively conjures up a storm at sea with a minimum of props and set. This is a fine piece of drama, crafted and played with imagination.
It works with ease – this version we are watching is a recording of the technical rehearsal of 17 December, which replaced the planned livestream on 18 December, for the anniversary date. With two company members testing positive for Covid, no other course of action could be taken.
Immersing us totally in the action as a community faces undescribable loss (“twelve children left without a father”), musical and familiar motifs bring the people at home, on the rescue boat, and on the beleaguered ship, into sharp relief.
Many dramatic retellings use music to scene-set and shortcut emotional moments, and Into the Night does this particularly well, adding to the local colour and sense of community spirit.
Starry names – Tom Chambers (previously seen in Apollo 13) and Susan Penhaligon – are present here but other cast members are just as memorable in their shapeshifting between one character and another (a trick also used on stage in another dramatisation of real events, Come From Away).
In Into the Night, the splash of water, the hum of an engine, the buzz of a pub, the yawning emptiness of a town with its heart ripped out, are all created by Michael Pavelka’s production design, Jason Taylor’s lighting, and Dominic Bilkey’s sound.
Into the Night features Hubert Burton, murder mystery expert Robert Duncan, Madeleine Knight and Tim Treloar (both seen in Original Theatre prior production, Birdsong), Robert Mountford and Hazel Simmons alongside Chambers and Penhaligon.
Into the Night was streamed on 19 December, but will be available in an on-demand version from 6-30 January 2022 – book here.
Image credit: Helen Maybanks