This ambitious new play by Chloë Moss is strikingly staged and beautifully performed under Holly Race Roughan’s direction in this joint production from Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse with Headlong theatre company. We’re on a present-day cargo ship carrying containers from Felixstowe to Asia. (Moi Tran’s impressive design simultaneously shows the bridge, deck and below-deck quarters.) Moss sets up this claustrophobic, hierarchical, rule-rigid world as a microcosm within which society-wide issues of oppression and prejudice loom large.
Corrina (Laura Elsworthy, intense and layered) is the only woman on board, taking up her first post since leaving college as an A-student some years earlier. The reason for this delay relates to a traumatic incident involving a fellow student, Will. Now a senior officer, he unexpectedly turns up on this voyage. The ship’s passage through pirate-haunted waters off Somalia gives Will (Mike Noble, consummate gaslighting) an excuse to set up a confrontation with Corrina, and subsequently to play on institutional sexism to further his self-serving attempts to undermine Corrina, personally and professionally.
Other members of the crew are mostly from the Philippines. Corrina, unlike other officers, attempts to establish friendly relations with these men. Angelo (James Bradwell, smiles hiding depths of despair) confides in her about their dire working conditions, and about wage payments deferred for months. He himself has been driven to loan sharks, who now menace the family he is working so hard to support. Through Angelo, the action movingly shows the human cost of institutional racism and the profit motive. However, in using Angelo to advance Corrina’s story, the action itself seems to exploit his situation and that of his fellow crew; less weight is attached to their plights than to hers.
Moss’s intention to address important subjects is admirable, but because her script forces issues instead of developing them dramatically, characters and situations lose credibility and her points lose impact.