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Inexpressible Island

Drama in three acts by David Young, premiered September 18, 1997 at Canadian Stage, produced by Necessary Angel, directed by Richard Rose, set and lights by Graeme S. Thomson, costumes by Charlotte Dean, stage managed by Susan Monis, soundscape by Todd Charlton, with RH Thomson, Richard McMillan, Graham Harley, Victor Ertmanis, Julian Richings and Wayne Best. Revived, October, 1998. A finalist for the Governor General’s Award. It received its French-language premiere in January, 2000, at Théâtre la Licorne (translated as Antarktikos by André Ricard and directed by Michel Monty).

The play is based on the true story of the 1912 scientific expedition which accompanied Scott to Antarctica (but which did not follow him to his death near the Pole). The group of six men was forced to winter for seven months in the coldest place on earth, in a tiny shelter, starving and filthy, indeed, as Young writes, "It is a scene of terrible suffering."

What we watch is a microcosm of the breakdown of social order with a stiff-upper-lipped commander, his proletarian subordinates, and the steady reek of a dying empire. Young uses the men's dreams and rising madness to fill his play; making his characters go back and forth across the line between the two. Each of the men arrives at his own ghostscape, with ample time to do battle with the figments and even join them occasionally. Young has referred to this state as "the ecstatic experience."

John Coulbourn, writing for the Toronto Sun, puts it very well: "Forced to ground by the arrival of the interminable winter night, they embark on a journey within themselves that, thanks to the immutability of human nature, is startlingly contemporary."

It is a harrowing night of theatre, a superb literary thriller reminiscent of William Golding's Lord of the Flies, and, more to the point, Patrick Meyer's play K2.

The playwright was inspired by a mountaineering expedition he himself took in the Yukon in 1991; bad weather blew in and forced Young and his companions to hole up for three days. During the time, one of the travellers told Young the story of Scott's journey.

Reading: David Young. Inexpressible Island. Winnipeg: Scirocco Drama, 1998.

Commentary by Gaetan Charlebois.

Last updated 2020-04-17