1797: The Mariner’s Revenge

1797: The Mariner’s Revenge
Photo credit: Hannah Anketell

“Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.”

This brand new immersive, site-specific production isn’t about that infamous mariner, but Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s epic tale does loom large in 1797: The Mariner’s Revenge. Set in the attic rooms of the Admiral’s House, in the grounds of the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich, the audience follows the fortunes of a bed-ridden sailor who has returned from the Battle of Tenerife feeling worse for wear. But there aren’t just physical injuries for him to worry about, as he is also being plagued by a stuffed albatross that sits above his bed…

Theatre is not confined to the West End – nor is it just about sitting down and staring at a stage for two & a half hours. That’s obviously fine & brilliant, but variety is important; theatre can be an experience as well as a spectacle, and The Mariner’s Revenge combines the two to make something rather special. I’d argue that it doesn’t really need the interactive element – though the actors do take the hint if you’d rather not get involved, it does rely on there being enough people who do want to join in (no guarantee in the smallish group sizes the location necessitates), and it keeps you on edge if you don’t. In my view, being based in the Old Royal Naval College automatically makes the show immersive, as you feel like you’re stepping back in time as soon as you head off King William Walk and into the grounds – the show could play out just as well without the audience getting involved.

One word of advice: make sure you know which part of the site is the Admiral’s House. It’s now dark by the time you need to arrive for the show, and there is minimal lighting – also no signage whatsoever (unlike last Goblin Theatre’s A Christmas Carol, staged in the Painted Hall last year), which can leave you wandering around aimlessly if you’re not careful.

At least you have the Skuttlebutt Bar awaiting you when you do arrive. A drink is included in everyone’s ticket price, so you can treat yourself either to a cocktail (Old Royal Fashioned: Naval Rum, Simple Syrup, Orange Bitters & Dehydrated Orange Slice) or a mocktail (Non-Bramble: Non-alcohol Gin, Bramble Cordial, Lemon Juice, Simple Syrup & Mint). I do like it when shows go to the effort to come up with themed drinks – it definitely makes it more tempting to give one a try, plus something like this really gets you in the mood ahead of your theatrical adventure.

Tara Usher’s set design and Jonathan Charles’ music combine with the historic venue (and Briony O’Callaghan’s direction) to create an eerie atmosphere; you can especially sense the mariner’s unravelling mental state in the room with letters strewn across the walls, and the cramped bedroom demonstrates how oppressive the environment would have been for the recovering mariner upon his return from battle. The albatross puppet and use of portraits is an excellent way of furthering the storytelling and inviting more actors into the room without needing any extra space.

The whole company works incredibly hard to create a unique theatrical experience, but it’s Mark Knightley and Norma Butikofer who stand out as the mariner and the albatross. Knightley’s mariner veers between determination and desperation, not sure what’s real and who he can trust, as he relives his nightmare and looks to the future – opposite him, Butikofer is both enticing and menacing, doing her best to tempt the mariner into a vengeful course of action. A memorable pair of performances.

1797: The Mariner’s Revenge
Photo credit: Hannah Anketell

My verdict? A haunting new immersive theatrical experience, that makes excellent use of its historic location – a terrific alternative Hallowe’en treat.

Rating: 4*

1797: The Mariner’s Revenge runs at Old Royal Naval College (Admiral’s House) until 12 November 2022. Tickets are available online. Further related activities will take place on 31 October for Hallowe’en.

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