By Nicola McCartneyfilament theatre

Directed By Julie Ritchey

At Filament Theatre, Chicago

Real Life Fairytale of Young Girls Lost At Sea

Set during World War II, Lifeboat tells the true story of two fifteen year old girls, Bess Walder (Molly Bunder) and Beth Cummings (Mara Dale), as they set sail for Canada with 88 other evacuees to escape the bombings in Britain. Four days into their journey, a torpedo sank the ship, leaving them stranded for 19 hours. Only 11 out of the 90 passengers survived, including the girls.

Ambitious in content and theme, the two actresses wonderfully embodied a large cast of characters ranging from young children to middle-aged adults. Bunder and Dale were clearly having fun on stage as they navigated the intricate, yet minimal set, which captured the essence of a majestic ocean liner, and the cramped mystique of English flats. Julie Ritchey’s direction made excellent use of the stage and the performers’ range to create a grim and true-to-life fairytale. Although this is a fun little play that shines light on a lesser-known historical event, the story telling devices were insufficient in creating empathy for the characters’ struggles.

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The story is told in a non-linear fashion utilizing an over abundance of narrative styles. The way the show bounces around in time and place would have made the production better suited as an animated film. Since we were reliant on the straightforward narrative of the characters, the script would have benefited from the clarity offered by the visual storytelling of motion pictures. Movies are able to transport us from one place to another in the blink of an eye, but on stage more time is needed for the audience’s imagination to catch up.

Nicola McCartney’s script lacks a distinct voice. By mixing absurdism, presentational narrative, and character driven development, it’s difficult to ascertain the core ideas of this piece. Since I was unsure of what the play was trying to accomplish, I had a hard time connecting with the play’s content. The script attempted to make me care about the characters by telling me their history, rather than fleshing out their plight. Furthermore, the personal narratives lacked originality and conflict.

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I commend the theatre for trying to go green by saving paper, but since there was no program, I didn’t realize until about halfway through the show that the adolescent girls were struggling to survive war torn England. The war didn’t seem to affect the girls (at first), so the context of the war didn’t affect my viewing. Perhaps I could have picked up on the contextual clues, but the characters were just as oblivious to the dangers of the war as I was. The play relied on the audience’s innate sense of compassion for two girls lost at sea, however, the script did nothing beyond the premise to develop the empathy and create the conflict the story required.

Lifeboat is a tragic story with an uplifting resolve. The production’s playful nature and captivating characters make it best suited for a younger audience (8-12). With its ability to entertain, the play serves as an opportunity to introduce children to some WWII history. I recommend taking your children to see this show, at your discretion. Be sure to give them some context before viewing and be prepared to answer questions afterward. I do not recommend the play to someone seeking a deep and more involved WWII drama.

Somewhat Recommended

Michael Gerrity

Date Reviewed: May 23rd, 2014

For more info checkout the Lifeboat page at

At Filament Theatre, 4041 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago, IL, call 773-270-1660,, tickets $20, Thursdays 8pm, Fridays 7:30pm, and Saturdays at 3pm, running time is 70 minutes with no intermission, through June 8th, 2014

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