Call Of The Ice


Written and performed by Tamblyn Lord
With support from Christopher Brown and Michael Gwynne
Set design by Gav Barbey
Lighting design by Richard Vabre
La Mama Courthouse until July 2.

Tamblyn Lord’s Call of the Ice is a one-man show that takes us to the wilderness of Antarctica. Probing the actor’s lifelong passion for the frozen continent, it is also a meditation on the life of Australian explorer Douglas Mawson.

Lord’s engagement with the subject matter is strong. He travelled to Antarctica on a commercial tour as part of the research for the project, in an attempt to visit Mawson’s famous huts on Cape Denison, where the explorer over-wintered in 1913. Lord gathered plenty of still and video documentation along the way, which features prominently in his performance.

Mawson’s adventures in Antarctica were part of the heroic age of southern exploration and feature many scarifying near-death experiences. In theory, they should provide a rich vein of theatrical material.

Sadly, Call of the Ice falls well short of a satisfying or complete treatment of Mawson and his journeys.

The reasons are many, but boil down to a drastically under-developed script. Delivered as a kind of family slide-show, Lord’s narrative was often confused. At various stages a homage to Mawson, a meditation on adventure and a travelogue of Lord’s own journey to Antarctica, his homely story wandered lost through frozen wastes, but never found its destination.

Was this a story of Mawson? Or of Lord? In the end we learned surprisingly little about either man. A surpassing superficiality pervaded the show, as Lord struggled to convey any character development – or even definition – of either Mawson or himself. What would lead a young man to risk everything to explore a barren wasteland? And why is Lord so obsessed with him? We never found out.

Call of the Ice wasn’t helped by some clunky theatre-making. On the night I attended, a technical glitch kept the audience in the foyer for 25 minutes before opening. The video interludes, which by rights should have stunned with their sublime imagery, were instead largely piece-to-camera narration from Lord inside his cabin; instead of comic relief, they mainly provided distraction. Some rather perfunctory puppetry and shadow play didn’t help matters either.

By far the best parts of the show were written by Mawson himself, when Lord performed segments of the explorer’s book Home of the Blizzard. But the impact was dissipated by Lord’s script, which included clangers like “What must have been going through Mawson’s head?” Ill-judged biographical scenes from Lord’s childhood tried unconvincingly to supply the answer.

I’ve seen slide-show-as-theatre delivered brilliantly, for instance by Claudia O’Doherty in her 2009 Melbourne Fringe show Monsters of the Deep 3D, but Call of the Ice shows what can go wrong in this format. Watching Lord struggle with a broken-backed storyline and some ill-judged aesthetic choices was a good lesson in the limits of the method.

Perhaps appropriately, Lord’s adventure to Antarctica was eventually abandoned, after his ship was iced in. Towards the end of the show, as Lord struggled to relate this failure to those of his hero, he yelled “I can’t do it! I can’t be you, Mawson!” Sadly, this was one line that rang true.

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