The Tom Crean Show by Aidan Dooley
The Source Theatre Thurles – 30 April 2015
The standing ovation at the end of last nights performance, at the Source Theatre in Thurles, was testament to the spellbinding act, we had just witnessed. Now, I am no theatre critic, and will not endeavour to be one, but I can state with absolute certainty that Aidan Dooley’s portrayal of Tom Crean was simply staggering.
Telling the epic tale of the Irish Giant’s heroic exploits is no easy task, and delivering that story in the guise of the great man, makes it even more difficult, but not only does Aidan Dooley bring the narrative to life, he also inspirits Tom Crean on the stage.
We sat and listened, transfixed, as Tom told of his journey south with Scott, and being sent back to base, 150 miles from the South Pole, the triumph of his solo march to save Lt. Edward Evans and the tragedy of the polar party, dying on their return journey. Then home he went, before journeying south again with Shackleton aboard the Endurance, and perhaps the greatest survival story of all time was recounted for us, by the man himself.
What Aidan Dooley does brilliantly is encompass so many traits of Crean’s personality into his performance. His strength, determination, modesty, cheerfulness, bravery, wit and compassion all shine through in the act. Armitage, who was Scott’s second in command aboard the Discovery, once wrote of Crean – “Crean was an Irishman with a fund of wit and an even temper which nothing disturbed.” Dooley has brought this fund of wit to the stage, and as the dramatic story unfolds, it is laced with just the right amount of humour and quips, to offset the more sombre details that are divulged.
Whilst speaking of even tempers which nothing disturbed – at one particularly poignant part of the performance, Tom is describing the gruelling return trip he endured with Edward Evans and Bill Lashly. Evans is scurvy ridden, he’s bleeding, his blood filled eyes bulge dark red, and he has been on the verge of death for days. He collapses for the umpteenth time, but this occasion is different, Tom informs us. He knelt on stage, crying as he cradled Evans in his arms, and stared into the crowd. “He’s dead!” he wailed.
At this point my 10 year old son decided to inform Tom and the rest of the audience, that Teddy Evans was in fact not dead. “No he’s not!” he shouted, at the top of his voice. All credit to Aidan Dooley, for he dealt with the heckle a lot better than I did. I recoiled in my seat as Dooley’s quick glance located us in an instant, despite the fact we were in the back row.
He then turned his gaze back to his cradling arms and asked’ “Well how do I answer that?” He paused before almost admitting ” Well no, he is not dead, but bear with me young man,” before continuing on to explain how they had thought Evans had died. Needless to say I spent the interval explaining the rules of theatre etiquette.
After the performance, Aidan Dooley was kind enough to return to the stage and partake in an informal discussion with the audience and answered any questions asked of him. He also explained how the play has evolved from a 15 minute museum performance, which was more about Shackleton and Scott than Crean, to it’s current embodiment, inspired by Michael Smith’s excellent book An Unsung Hero.
There are plenty of upcoming dates on the current tour, and I cannot recommend this play highly enough. Whether you are new to the Tom Crean story, or know it inside out, its performance by Aidan Dooley is uniquely captivating and is simply a must see!