If the Dungeons sound just a tad too “family entertainment” to you, 1797 – The Mariner’s Revenge is your maritime hauntology alternative for this Halloween season: No silly shiver-me-timbers, no franchise pirates and no Hans Zimmer tunes but instead grown-up madness, all comical, cruel, chaotic and strange. Immersive theatre, but cast-led. Yes, there can always be more shanties but the finale on the Admiral’s House staircase balcony is a very warm round-up after a journey through the attic rooms of the Old Royal Naval College.
Greenwich is best to be reached by boat from London’s central Thames banks, especially during rush hour: I shamefully start the evening by stepping into a tourist trap when following the instructions at the Thames Clipper pier at the Tower Of London and buy a ticket before boarding – going by Oyster card (as only advertised when actually queuing to board) would have saved me over £4. But nevertheless, I join a full boat of Swabian pre-teens floating under Tower Bridge and around Canary Wharf all the way to Greenwich through the evening dim. Now it’s only a few steps to the Old Royal Naval College and the Admiral’s House within.
Because I joined the earlier performance on a mid-week evening, I am taking a quick stroll through the famous Old Royal Naval College courts, famous as film sets in Pirates Of The Caribbean and Sherlock Holmes. Around every corner I can hear different music being practiced; modern jazz and classic ensembles, choirs and solo singers. They are still playing when I’ll make my way back to the train station later. In the photogenic entrance of the Admiral’s House, audience members introduce themselves, explore the venue equipped with information sheets about the different rooms and their artwork and upstairs at the bar waits a welcome drink for everyone – luckily for me, including a sober-October friendly alternative to an old-fashioned rum mix.
If you cannot stop glancing wide-eyed for ships from every shore you step on, count your nautical tattoos and bless your Hanseatic roots, there is no doubt you are in for a treat: Half haunting folk horror seance, half gory nightmare, 1797 – The Mariner’s Revenge is spiked with surreal questions of what sanity is and if trauma can ever be overcome. It still finds space for laughter within the cock-and-bull stories and agnostic, compulsive superstitions of an injured sailor and a menacing albatross. Thinking of it: Now that literature professors and those learned in the Ancient Greek myths agreed that sirens are no fish humans but bird women – could sirens have been albatrosses? Poseidon / Neptune on his kelp-decorated throne might have been a hint. Admiral Lord Nelson comes along the croaking attic floor as well, based on his actual visit in the 1790s when the building had been indeed London’s Royal Hospital for Seamen, hosting at its peak 2710 old and injured sailors, long before the grounds became the Royal Naval College almost a century later. One can only imagine the claustrophobic living circumstances with a shudder, surely not ideal for justice and recovery.
As a first introduction to theatre creators HistoryRiot and Woolwich-based Tramshed, I will keep a keen eye out on what they will come up with next and where. This South-Eastern corner of London is always worth a visit for tourists and locals alike.
***** out of 5 stars
Written by Mark Knightly and directed by Briony O’Callaghan
Played at the Attic Rooms of the Old Royal Naval College until 12 November, tickets from £19.50