With The Pirate Project, Ovalhouse Theatre tells us to “expect sword fights, theatrical storms and cross-dressing aplenty” and this Lucy Foster and Improbable co-production does not disappoint. The Pirate Project opens the Ovalhouse’s season Outlaws with tales of historical female pirates and their relevance to the lives of contemporary women.
The trio of Chloe Dechery, Lucinka Eisler and Simone Kenyon each play a pirate icon - Ching Shih, Anne Bonny and Mary Read - and relate their stories to personal struggles, anxieties and hopes, searching for their own inner pirate. These tales are gloriously farcical, hilarious and heartfelt. Alongside the pirate travails are projected videos of middle aged and elderly women discussing their own experiences of womanhood.
The chemistry of the three players is obvious and their sense of humour is infectious from the start. We’re encouraged to bellow our best pirate impression and become crew members for their boisterous and bawdy pirate tales. The trio command multiple roles with unwavering energy and smoothly handle the tone shifts of the piece by moving seamlessly between slapstick comedy, melancholic nostalgia and frank honesty. Eisler is particularly witty and expressive in each of the tales.
The trio work around three large screens on which we see projected scenes relevant to each part of the show. Initially seeming ramshackle - a step ladder brazenly described as a ship’s plank, for example - the set is full of delightful surprises. Without stage hands, the players separate the screens, using them as makeshift boats and covers for silhouetted action. They delve into chests for props and the clever construction reveals a hidden mast and even a tavern in the last act. While the set may appear slapdash, these ingenious manipulations expose its intricacy.
With such an overtly haphazard approach to theatre this show is never perfect. The story is sometimes lost amidst the frantic action and the pre-recorded footage is in a few cases inaudible. The women of these recordings are also left as something of a mystery and while they may stand for a wider experience of womanhood their relative anonymity jars with the otherwise honest production.
The cast though are so endearing as to make these minor blemishes easily forgivable. They expertly craft a play full of warmth, humour and honesty. The resulting production is a provocative and fun start to Outlaws and well worth the few pieces of eight for admission.