On Friday evening, the Centre Culturel Altrimenti was packed with 120 people in the audience mesmerised by Aidan Dooley's one-man show "Tom Crean - Antarctic Explorer".
What had originally started out as a "live museum" piece has now been extensively researched and put together into a 2-hour performance (with a 15-minute break) which has been performed in both small and large venues, to over 1,000 audiences around the world, and which has won numerous awards. However, this was Aidan Dooley's first time in Luxembourg, for two performances, on Friday and Saturday evenings.
Tom Crean left home (from a small town in Co Kerry, near Dingle) at 15 and joined the British Navy. He subsequently went on three expeditions to Antarctica - two with Scott and one with Shackleton - and has become known for his bravery. He sailed on the Discovery (1901-04), the Terra Nova (1910-13) and the Endurance (1914-16).
Aidan Dooley's performance works because he is a master storyteller. He not only recounts what happens, mostly chronologically, but he presents an incredibly detailed insight into how Tom Crean and his colleagues experienced the elements and all the challenges thrown at them. But it's not simply just recounting the stories, Aidan Dooley does it in such a masterful way that there is both humour and intrigue mixed into his excellent delivery. He had the audience feeding out of his hand and, at many stages, one could hear a pin drop such was the rapt attention he commanded.
The first act covers the two Scott expeditions, and the second act covers Shackleton's. Aidan Dooley started off by explaining the differences between the Arctic and the Antarctic, and the extreme cold to be experienced on the way to the South Pole. He described the composition of each item of clothing and garment, getting dressed on stage in the process.
One of the most harrowing anecdotes he told was the 800-mile crossing to South Georgia in a lifeboat (under Shackleton), but it was the detail in how to protect it against the elements that was so incredibly fascinating, including the task of scraping the ice of the tarpaulin. Another, also hilarious in his delivery, was the "roller coaster" moments in descending from the tops of the mountain ranges.
The stories featured a lot of animals too - penguins, seals, dogs, whales and albatrosses - all in good taste (no pun intended...). And the set, while not minimalistic, was aided by the superbly effective sepia lighting and haunting sound effects at the start of each act. Clothes, tarpaulins and chests were all the props, apart from a lantern and a pipe. Aidan Dooley did the rest himself and his wonderful storytelling. As one schoolteacher said afterwards - this should be on the school's syllabus"...
For those who have not had the chance to see "Tom Crean - Antarctic Explorer", a production organised by the Irish Club of Luxembourg and the Luxembourg Branch of Comhaltas Ceolteoiri Eireann, some tickets will be available at the door (€20 each) before this evening's (Saturday 28 April 2018) performance at 19:30 at the Centre Culturel Altrimenti (5 Ave Marie Therese, Luxembourg-ville).