A Cinema in South Georgia

Wed 19th – Sun 30th August 2015


Tess Davidson

at 12:04 on 27th Aug 2015



A Cinema In South Georgia is a delicate and sensitive portrayal of human survival. An original production based solely upon written and oral first-hand testimonies, it explores the lives of the last few men to hunt the whale. Written by Jeffery Mayhew and Susan Wilson, whose own father was a whaler, it involves four male characters, Robbie (Frazer Smilez), Fraser (Jonathan Combe), Archie (Mark Vevers), and Jim (Euan McIver), all at entirely different stages in their lives.

It is beautifully crafted, with simplicity pervading throughout, a focus on the experiences of the men rather than a grandiose, romanticised perception of life at sea. Seen through the lens of their individual reasons as to why they needed to leave home, the audience are able to understand how their past shapes their current experiences.

The production is brilliantly devised, the use of traditional music evocative, and the audience enraptured from the opening scenes. The plaintive wail of music throughout representative of both the beauty of their shared adventure, and the crippling isolation and loneliness that they all feel in some shape or form. From the young boy desperately seeking his father’s approval to the hard-up husband weighed down by the financial burdens of married life, the men and their bravado are disillusioned in the wake of haunting acapella vocals.

The cast are especially strong, understated yet powerful. The audience is drawn in by their simple outlook on life, empathetic to their situations and amused by the congeniality amongst the men. The premise of the play is simple and the actors must be praised for emulating that in their acting.

Perhaps the most impressive dimension of this production is the work of the technical team. The use of projected images of Scotland in 1959 and an explicit and grizzly silent video a whale being processed aboard a factory ship adding a greater depth and sensitivity to that already present in the script. Throughout, the production was slick, every transition effortless and classy in its execution.

A Cinema In South Georgia is exquisite, and executed in such a manner that it was deeply respectful to the memory of all those this experience was based on. One of the most refreshing and enjoyable productions at the Fringe – you will only regret not going to see it.


Fergus Morgan

at 19:23 on 27th Aug 2015



South Georgia, a dot in the furious South Atlantic, must be a remarkable place: a British territory since Captain Cook’s landing in 1775, saviour of Shackleton’s ill-fated Trans-Antarctic expedition in 1916, and, from 1904 to 1965, a key hub of the world whaling industry.

A Cinema In South Georgia, a new piece of ensemble theatre by Jeffrey Mayhew and Susan Wilson, explores the lives of four Scottish whalers, who found themselves on the island over the Christmas of 1959, thousands of miles from their home in Eyemouth. Developed from first-hand accounts from the men themselves, it paints a charming picture of a life lived in isolation, capturing the camaraderie, the humour and the evocative bleakness.

Flitting about in time and location, and back and forth between Edinburgh and the Arctic Ocean, A Cinema In South Georgia introduces us to Robbie (Frazer Smilez), Fraser (Jonathan Combe), Archie (Mark Vevers), and Jim (Euan McIver). The four men chat, joke, squabble and fight throughout, frequently pausing to sing a raucous shanty, to act out some episode from their past, or to talk on the history and traditions of the whaling industry.

Vevers and McIver are convincing as old hands Archie and Jim, their thick Scottish brogues authoritative and expressive in equal measure. Combe and Smilez are similarly laudable, the former for his simmering aggression, the latter for his browbeaten annoyance at being ordered around by the others.

The proliferation of detours and departures mean there is little progression to the piece, but any potential stagnation is dissipated by the fascinating subject matter. Funnier flashbacks – Robbie first ‘becoming a man’ in Aruba being a notably amusing example – are mixed with educational digressions on the procedure of catching, killing and processing a whale and on the men’s illegal distillation of spirits, and more.

There are sobering moments too, particularly when the four men’s backgrounds are revealed. The unsurprising revelation – that many men were forced to work long hours, separated from their home for months on end, purely to keep their families afloat – is nicely contrived.

Throughout, the performance is aided by actual footage of whalers in the South Atlantic, projected onto a screen at the back of the stage. The grainy shots of swelling waves, tossing, and men viscerally stripping a caught whale on deck are undeniably arresting.

This is, above all else, an extremely interesting production. The acting is proficient, if not particularly outstanding, and the structure sound, but A Cinema In South Georgia’s real strength is in its engaging evocation of a way of life now long gone.


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