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            LIFEBOAT by Nicola McCartney

           The Jack Studio Theatre 19 Sept – 6 Oct 2018



13 September 1940, a ship set sail from Liverpool for Canada. On board were 90 evacuees escaping the bombing and dangers of war torn Britain.   The ship was torpedoed in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and sank. Two fifteen- year-old school girls, Bess Walder and Beth Cummings, spent 19 terrifying hours in the water on an upturned lifeboat. They willed each other to survive.


The team at Brockley Jack Studio talk about how they are re-creating these true events for the stage.

Actors:  Lindsey Scott (Beth) and Claire Bowman (Bess)

Director, Kate Bannister

Q. What strikes you as the most demanding part of getting it on the stage?  

Lifeboat tells the story of two incredibly brave and resilient young teenagers. The play not only focuses on the girls’ experience on the upturned lifeboat, after their ship has been torpedoed, but it also tells the story of their lives at the outbreak of the war, and of their dreams and hopes for the future.

The piece is physically demanding, changing timeframes and locations quickly, as various characters come to life throughout the play. So, there is a lot to focus on in rehearsals, in clearly creating a diverse range of characters who shape the story, as well as realizing the different environments they travel through. But perhaps most important is portraying the growing friendship between Bess and Beth, and their extraordinary will to survive, which is at the heart of the play.

Sound and light will play a vital part in this production too, and we have two excellent designers with Jack Barton, who designed for Kes and Wolves of Willoughby Chase, working on the sound design, and Tom Kitney, who will be returning to the Jack to create the lighting design.

Who will be your right-hand person and why?

In rehearsal, I’m delighted to be working with Laurel Marks again, who assisted on my last in-house production of Kes.  Laurel is a director and performer, so she is a great person to have in the rehearsal room to discuss all production decisions with.


Set Designer, Karl Swinyard:

What gizmos have your got in store for this production?  

I don’t have any gizmos for this one, unlike our Christmas shows, where there are always a few surprises in the design. This feels a very different production, and I am aware that it is a true story, and one that we all want to do justice to.

What’s going to be tricky to get absolutely right?

I will need to create a set that allows the action to move swiftly between different places, but the biggest challenge ahead is undoubtedly going to be the lifeboat, and Beth and Bess’s time in the Atlantic Ocean. And I’m working on that! As we move into rehearsal it will become a collaboration between sound, light, set and performance to realise those scenes, and create the sense of isolation and danger experienced on the upturned lifeboat.


Costume Designer, Martin J Robinson

What was your first response to reading the script?  

My reaction was what an incredibly moving story it was, and the immense courage that must have been shown by these children.

What are some of thing you will have to consider in designer the costumes?

I obviously need to consider the period of the piece, which is set in 1940, as well as aspects of the multi-rolling. I am working to an original 1940s dress pattern for the main characters, and sourcing suitable period fabrics for these designs.

Have you or your family ever experienced something similar?

I spent ten years working in the Merchant Navy. In undertaking a crossing to America, the ship was hit side-on by an enormous tidal wave, which sent it within 2 degrees of capsizing. Everything on the ship was flung to the left and then again to the right, with objects and furniture striking everyone who was in their way. Whilst I survived unharmed, not everyone was so lucky, and although the ship did not capsize, it was an experience very close to sinking.  


Actor Lindsey Scott (Beth)

How would you describe your acting style?  

For me it's all about being playful and exploring the character, or characters in this case.

What is the best part about the character you are portraying in terms of using your skill as an actor?

When I first read the script I was immediately transported into that world and that's what inspired me. This play is so special. It gives Claire and I the opportunity to multi-role, and what a wonderful yet rewarding challenge it will be to bring the script to life, and hopefully take the audience on that journey too. Beth has a lot of qualities that are similar to mine, but I'm excited to explore every side to her.

Have you or your family ever experienced something similar?

My Nanna was evacuated during the Second World War to a little cottage in Doncaster. Considering we're from Leeds she didn't have a very long way to go. And there were definitely no boats involved!


Actor Claire Bowman (Bess)

How would you describe your acting style?

I’m quite a naturalistic actor. In this play we each play a lot of characters, so I’m excited about keeping them all very different and distinguishable people, while still naturalistic.

What is the best part about the character you are portraying in terms of using your skill as an actor?

Playing Bess is so much fun - she’s a lot more extroverted than I am which is a challenge in itself, but what I love about the play is that you get to see both girls at their happiest and their most afraid. The range of emotions in the script is enormous, and that’s equally demanding and fulfilling to get to play.

Have you or your family ever experienced something similar?   And how does that impact on your response to the story?

Thankfully not! But the knowledge that Beth and Bess were real people that went through this already makes it feel a lot more personal than the parts I’ve played before.


Theatre Manager, Karl Swinyard:

Is there a particular reason why this show will fit the Jack Studio theatre really well?  

Lifeboat is an inspiring and moving piece of theatre. We think our audience will really enjoy it, and respond to the themes, which are still current as we continue to see how children are affected by war.  It’s a story with real heart, about not giving up, survival and friendship. It is also a real challenge to bring to the stage, for all members of the production team, and we like to embrace these at the Jack!


Thanks to all the team for their responses


LIFEBOAT by Nicola McCartney

The Jack Studio Theatre 19 September – 6 October 2018


Box office:

or 0333 666 3366




@September 2018 All Rights Reserved

London Pub Theatres Magazine Ltd