Rapscallion Diversion’s Crow’s Nest has its issues in its current 20-minute incarnation, but these issues don’t hide its potential as a more developed, ‘feature-length’ play.
Crow’s Nest takes up the story of Donald Crowhurst, a British amateur sailor who entered the first ever nonstop round-the-world sailboat competition in 1968. Despite his lack of experience, he managed to become a celebrity by seeming to be in first place for much of the race – until the truth came out. The real-life story is murky and somewhat speculative (each contestant in the competition was piloting a one-man vessel, and Crowhurst disappeared before anybody could talk to him), but Crow’s Nest manages to communicate most of the story fairly clearly, at least in terms of the public’s perception of the race and Crowhurst’s performance in it. Transitions between these scenes and scenes of Crowhurst alone on his boat could go smoother, but I’m unsure if this is because the staging could use more polishing or simply because Crowhurst’s solo scenes are, by necessity, fictionalized.
Jake William Smith brings an excellent persona to the character of Crowhurst, with the wide eyes and dazzling smile that makes every successful con man so appealingly ‘trustworthy.’ The fading of this confident look is certainly there as Crowhurst starts to doubt his ability to complete the race, helped by the staging that demands something of a virtuoso performance on Smith’s part: he is more or less alone onstage the whole time (the opening press conference scene is the only time other people speak), and manipulating a large wooden box that pulls double duty as both a press pulpit and the sailboat. Whether or not the coincidence of character losing his confidence and actor losing energy was intentional, it works very well.
The alternation of scenes that address the public element of the sailboat race and the private experience of taking part in the race is easily followable if not as clean as it could be. What’s less easy to follow is the ending of the show, which seems to take an ambiguous position on how Crowhurst’s race ended. In real life investigators concluded that Crowhurst, facing financial ruin if he didn’t win or at least complete the race, committed suicide; Crow’s Nest ends with the boat being towed although Crowhurst’s own fate is left undefined – it only seems to be implied that Crowhurst was cheating, which he most certainly was. The play is fairly easy to follow if you’re unfamiliar with the story, except for this part.
All in all however, Crow’s Nest takes an interesting historical titbit and dramatizes it mostly well. In any future incarnation I’d be intrigued to see more on Crowhurst himself (like any good trickster surprisingly little information about him is supplied, except for the intriguing moment in the opening scene where we learn that Crowhurst’s mother would dress him up as girl before the issue is dropped forever), as well as the rules of the race and the art of sailing in general, related topics that were wisely put on the back burner due to the limitations of the 20-minute running time imposed by Fresh Meat. As a newly hatched creation from Rapscallion Diversion, Crow’s Nest is worth checking out.
A Rapscallion Diversion Production
Written by Jake William Smith and Danielle Savoie
Directed by Danielle Savoie
Performed by Jake William Smith