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  • Chris ORourke

Tom Crean-Antarctic Explorer

Aidan Dooley as Tom Crean in Tom Crean Antarctic Explorer. Image by Futoshi Sakauchi


A National Treasure

“Tom Crean-Antarctic Explorer” has been consistently making the theatrical rounds since it officially premiered in 2003, receiving universal acclaim, awards, and nominations. A winning tale about three failed attempts to make it to the South Pole, “Tom Crean-Antarctic Explorer” tells of Irishman Crean who accompanied both Scott and Shackleton over the course of their three disastrous expeditions on Discovery (1901 – 1904), Terra Nova (1910 – 1913), and Endurance (1914 - 1916), and survived to tell the tale. A story of an indomitable will in the face of overwhelming odds, “Tom Crean-Antarctic Explorer” ventures outward into the blizzards, seas, and ice of the Antarctic, and inward into the heart of the human spirit. And if you haven’t already seen it, and even if you have, don’t miss a chance to. For “Tom Crean-Antarctic Explorer” is one of the true gems of story telling theatre.

Written and performed by Aidan Dooley, “Tom Crean-Antarctic Explorer” strikes the right balance between Crean the man and Crean the Antarctic explorer. Indeed, Crean’s fascinating story is only half the pleasure, the rest is getting to spend time in his effervescent company. From his early days as a strapping, fifteen year old who joins the Royal Navy, to his final days finding his own South Pole, a seanchaí like Crean delights with his story-telling. Rambling on stage by lantern light, looking like Compo out of Last Of The Summer Wine and speaking with that same infectious energy, Dooley’s Crean is a man who talks relentlessly yet never gets boring. From dressing properly for the ice to negotiating ice floes and traversing the South Atlantic in a twenty-one foot boat, Crean is hope and the love of life personified. When dying is the easy way, and true heroism lies in struggling to live, especially when the lives of others depend on you, Crean’s heroics become all the more impressive, his tale all the more uplifting, not least for being hilariously told.

Some minor vocal issues, pace a little hurried and levels a little low at times, suggestive of a cold, caused only a minor inconvenience. Yet “Tom Crean-Antarctic Explorer” is not without its issues when it comes to personal taste. Early on Crean establishes that this is not a sentimental tale. It's a matter of fact, and of hard facts, served up without any effort to embroider, or to manipulate the audience emotionally. But Crean doesn’t need to, having the charm, presence, and gift of the gab to sell ice to the eskimos. Yet there’s also the more pressing problem, especially for people from anywhere outside The Kingdom, of having to listen to a Kerryman rabbit on about his great adventures for two hours. And while many begrudgers might deny it publicly, the Dingle man does a damn fine job of it.

“Tom Crean-Antarctic Explorer” avoids an overt theatricality, relying on the strength of the performer, the story he tells, and his ability to tell it. In the case of Dooley, its a formula of simplicity and directness that pays off handsomely. If the once forgotten Crean is now recognised as a national treasure, “Tom Crean-Antarctic Explorer” deserves to be recognised as such too. A timeless classic, “Tom Crean-Antarctic Explorer” is likely to be around from many many years to come.

“Tom Crean-Antarctic Explorer,” written and performed by Aidan Dooley, presented by Pat Moylan and Play on Words in association with MCD, runs at The Gaiety Theatre until October 20.

For more information, visit The Gaiety Theatre.

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