Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Tom's a-Cold

To the annals of dramas inspired by the plight of Sir John Franklin's men in the last stages of their fatal Arctic expedition -- a noble list that begins with Wilkie Collins and Charles Dickens's "The Frozen Deep" of 1857 -- one can now add another play: Canadian playwright David Egan's "Tom's a Cold." The play, which takes its title from the storm scene in King Lear, embodies the psychological drama of two men in a boat -- a boat which any follower of Arctic history will recognize as that found by Sir Leopold McClintock with two skeletons aboard -- in their final extremities of cold and despair. It might seem a grim subject -- but here in the twenty-first century, with Samuel Beckett known to us, it gives the word "endgame" a curious new twist. The play opened in London this summer, where the reviewer for TimeOut London, while he thought the play a bit overlong, praised the last portion of the performance, declaring that "Egan conjures a devastating end stretch, poetic and stomach churning."

The play now comes back to its literal and metaphorical home turf -- Canada -- where it is now appearing as part of the Factory Theatre's Next Stage Festival. But if you want to see it, you'd better hurry -- the last performance will be just a few days from now, on Sunday, January 16th.


  1. Thank you for this. I didn't know and it's right around the corner! We're heading off to see it now on Sunday.

  2. Ted, curious to hear what you thought of the play?

  3. Thoroughly enjoyed it. It was very short - 65 minutes - and I probably had a very different take on it than many in the audience who would be less familiar with the details of the Franklin Expedition.

    Egan captures well the sense of total isolation of being stranded in the Arctic and how that plays on the mind, breaking down the mind as quickly as the lack of vitamin C and cold break down the body.

    Though only 65 minutes - I am not sure how the London reviewer could describe it as "overlong" unless it was re-written for this production - it was really quite dense, packed with tidbits of Franklin backstory - just enough: it didn't drag it out for those who already know, but didn't skim too much for those without any knowledge - but full of imagery, dense with references to the Bible, end times, nature, sanity, ghosts, royalty/imperial Britain etc. There is one scene which I thought really well done in which they play act - something the two actors did frequently to pass the time, but also demonstrating their losing grasp of reality - a scene in which they declare their boat effectively a sub-kingdom of England and the captain of the "boat" its king, and subtly mock the very idea of Arctic exploration and claiming territory.

    Interestingly, not one single mention of the Inuit, as I recall.

    Also interestingly, although well acted, they cast a clearly, shall we say, well fed individual to act as the able seaman.

    I'm going to try to find some time to post a less cursory summary on Franklin's Ghost later this week.