"The Graveyard" by Mermaids St Andrews, Charlie Flynn, Edinburgh Fringe, Greenside @ Infirmary Street, Harry Higgins, Mermaids Performing Arts Fund, Mermaids St Andrews, The Batavia Disaster, Theatre Review
“The Graveyard” has been brought to Greenside @ Infirmary Street by Mermaids, the venerable theatre company from the University of St Andrews. This play introduces to each other two things that are seen frequently at the Edinburgh Fringe but not yet before, as far as I am aware, together. One is that comedy partnership in which the first performer is exasperated and the second is blithely annoying and provocative. The other is the theatre play that has selected some quirky, pub-quiz nugget from history as its storyline.
It could have been French and Saunders larking about behind the scenes when the chateau of the psychopath Gilles de Rais was being raided. It could have been Mitchell and Webb on Henry Ford’s doomed utopian community in the Amazon jungle. But instead it is Mermaids’ Charlie Flynn and Harry Higgins, marooned in the middle of the Batavia disaster.
The Batavia had sailed the ocean blue in 1628. It had come from the Netherlands and it was going to modern-day Indonesia, to trade for the Dutch East-India Company. There had been a storm, a mutiny, a shipwreck , a desert island, the massacre of most of the survivors to ensure that the rations held out, and then a small war. The mutineers who were responsible for the massacre had been defeated, captured and massacred themselves. Another tick from the hideous, wound-up grandfather clock of European colonialism.
Flynn and Higgins’ characters continue to live on well into the disaster. Yet they complain to each other about it with a comical mildness and an increasingly gymnastic flair for understatement. This play is basically funny because the whole thing is being performed in the wrong tone of voice. The seamen sound like two twits who are trying to muddle through an administrative calamity in a council office. After a while this is a tactic that you might begin to recognise from the BBC sitcom Blackadder Goes Forth, which is set in the WW1 trenches. Like Blackadder… “The Graveyard” winkles some pathos and some contemplative stoicism out of the mayhem. In a spot of clowning with a voice in the wilderness, there is also some brief, startling horror.
Maybe this is what the Batavia disaster had really looked like though. Who knows? Maybe such disasters are never melodramatic whilst they are occurring and most of the participants are bored and moaning about the toilets. Maybe “The Graveyard” is the nearest that anybody has gotten so far to accounting for the Batavia disaster with documentary realism.