Cambridge's leading amateur theatre production company

Established 1981

Terra Nova
by  Ted Tally   directed by Colin Lawrence

The ADC Theatre, Cambridge, March 2012

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Two Reviews of Terra Nova
by Nick Warburton & Philip Dunshea of 'Local Secrets'

Ted Tally is an American writer, best known for his screenplay for The Silence of the Lambs.At first sight that seems an unlikely companion piece for Terra Nova but both scripts are interested inwhat drives people to extremes, and both are very well written.Terra Nova, the programme tells us, is based on journals and letters written by Scott and his team,and so it is, but Tally does more than simply assemble the quotes and record the events.He plays with time and memory to explore the motives of individuals and the prejudices of the age.

The result is a fine play which makes excellent use of poetry and humour. It certainly asks awkward questions but ultimately it's a fitting tribute to the brave men of Scott's expedition.Colin Lawrence's production for Bawds at the ADC worked wonderfully well.It gave us uniformly good (and well-spoken) performances; it showed satisfying attention to detail, costume,props and make-up were brilliant and it was well-served by its lighting and sound. The set, by Chris Hindley, was visually striking and appropriately stark and the sledge at its centre was beautifully used, becoming, for example, a table in a restaurant at the start of the second half.

Tally's shifts in time and location were so well-handled that we were never lost, and the clever overlapping of scenes worked particularly well. This was most movingly so when the death of Evans merged with Scott's recollection of his young son Peter.
The entire cast was impressive. Martin Woodruff as Scott had integrity and gravitas,
with just the right degree of tortured self-questioning. Scott Brindle was Oates,
convincingly both noble and cussed; Bowers (Sean Baker) provided much of the humour in deft but always controlled touches; Dave Foyle, as Wilson, was thoroughly decent and humane; and Andy Waller as Evans, the one representative of 'other ranks', was most believable in his suffering.Meg Dixon gave a nuanced performance as the unconventional and self-willed Kathleen. In some ways she presented Scott with an even challenge greater than the South Pole itself, and the growth of their relationship was intelligently done. Julian Cooper was tremendous in the
tricky role of Amundsen, asking all the awkward questions and in the end coming closer to Scott than anyone else.


There was both innocence and heroism in Scott's failed attempt to be first to the South Pole. The sacrifice of those men has been celebrated ever since and particularly so this year. Bawds' production of Ted Tally's play is a fine tribute, and a true winner.


* * * * *


In recent times Cambridge has seen a fair flurry of events to mark the centenary of Scott's last expedition to the South Pole; the most recent, a production of Ted Tally's play Terra Nova, staged at the ADC theatre.

Named in honour of Scott's ship, Terra Nova is a mesmerising free-form drama which takes much of its material from the diaries and letters found in Scott's tent. This is inventively woven together with re-imagined encounters betweenScott and his young wife, and between Scott and his Norwegian competitor, Roald Amundsen.

In reality Scott never met the latter; but he knew what Amundsen represented, and Terra Nova uses the Norwegian as a sounding board for Scott's own delusions and fears. As a study of heroism in the face of failure it is tremendously effective.


The curtain rises to the shrill keening of the Antarctic wind, and for a moment we are left alone with some sepia photos of the Terra Nova marooned in the ice. Her gaunt masts and rigging stand out in suitably menacing fashion against the white sky. From there we are flung straight into the heart of the adventure: Scott and his four companions are inching their way towards the Pole. In a rapid series of asides we see each man battling his own demons: Lawrence Oates, unreconstructed officer material, whose iron self-discipline drives him to bully anyone he sees as lacking; Henry Bowers,
overawed by the vast emptiness around him; and Edgar Evans, taunted by his superiors and crippled by injury.


Scott himself (Martin Woodruff) cuts a lonely, rather pitiable figure, driven to the Antarctic by a complicated senseof destiny and duty which is entirely at odds with his rather diffident personality; ultimately, we learn, it is the fear of a wasted life which sends Scott back to the Pole, against the wishes of his wife and his own better judgement. Even in 1912 Scott was an old-fashioned sort of gentleman, or at least aspired to be so; through a series of tightly-controlled set-pieces we see these ideals being probed, tested and mocked, but somehow they hold out.

Amundsen, played with bristling confidence by Julian Cooper, haunts Scott to the very end, goading him over his ideals and questioning whether it is duty or ambition which drives the Englishman. There is something of Omar Sharif's Sherif Ali (Lawrence of Arabia) about Cooper's performance, amplified when he yells 'English!' at Scott before
delivering yet another stinging rebuke. The point Amundsen hammers home is that the Antarctic is no place for sporting behaviour or for a crisis of conscience, and by the time Scott is alone with his perished companions, we can't help but agree.


Surprisingly Amundsen is also responsible for one of the most beautiful images in the play, as he foresees Scott's frozen body being released from the ice into the sea centuries hence, floating north into the sun like a Viking prince.  As the defeated men walk back from the Pole, still dragging cameras and geological samples, it dawns on them one by one that they are going to die. They respond in different ways: Oates redeems himself with a famous act of self-sacrifice, although one senses it is done more out of duty than compassion; Evans goes mad; Bowers remains plucky, even cheerful, to the very end. And at the last we have Scott alone in the tent, a small pool of light and warmth adrift in the storm, struggling to write down his final thoughts, to justify his actions to the world and to himself.

Bawds Theatre Company are to be congratulated on this very capable production. The story penetrates to the very heart of the Scott legend, and leaves us with the impression that, even in the face of such suffering, this was not a wasted journey.
When Scott's tent was finally located by a rescue party months later, a rough cross was erected on the ice to mark the spot where the expedition met its end. The epitaph read 'To seek, to strive, to find, and not to yield', an ideal, Terra Nova seems to conclude, which is not entirely without merit.


Terra Nova was staged at the ADC Theatre April 24th - 28th 2012