Lost in Antarctica

In Arts & Culture1 Comment

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By Jeff Simard

Inexpressible Island is a play tracing the journey of six men on Captain Scott’s 1912 expedition to the South Pole.

While Scott and the rest of the party traveled to the pole, these six undertook a scientific mission along the Antarctic coast. Unlike Scott’s expedition, they live but not before undergoing their own brush with death.
Trapped in an ice shelter, they lived off of seal and penguin meat for almost eight months before they were able to march to safety.

Lieutenant Campbell, played by R.H. Thompson, is the highest ranking member of the expedition. Campbell is a colonialist and a bureaucrat who eventually goes insane on the trip.

Beside him is Dr. Levick, played by Richard McMillan. Levick is an understanding and altruistic scientist, but he also masks his condescension towards the real value of the Lieutenant.

It remains masked because Levick doesn’t want the responsibility himself. Rather he allows the Campbell to bear the burden.

There is also Priestly, the civilian geologist,played by Graham Harley and three enlisted men, played by Victor Ertmanis, Julian Richings and Wayne Best.

Wayne Best’s character, Abbot, acts like a virus.

Outwardly he is an evil influence in the group, at first causing sickness but ultimately making them stronger by resisting his disease. His disease is doubt, and he uses it to tear down the sagging psyches of the other men. He forces the other enlisted men to face the basic existential questions of choice.

Do they follow the Lieutenant or the ordered society, which like the Lieutenant, claims to have a plan? Or do they follow their own self-interest?

Inexpressible Island can be interpreted as a warning about justifying inequality and difference. The same little tool of doubt that makes science so possible also applies to yourself.

Just think what would happen if you had assumed you were the master all along only to awake and find out you’ve been wrong all along. The world only consists of facts and any interpretation of those facts is only a theory, forever postulated but never proven.

Sometimes I forget all this stuff and end up walking around thinking I’m the man when I’m really just an overgrown ape with a severe ego problem. This played served to remind me of my ignorance.

If good theatre serves to humble the audience, and remind them that they are only human, then this play succeeds spectacularly.

More than just a walk in the park of philosophy, Inexpressible Island is a massive, and successful, attempt to clarify the modern conception of the human condition.

As a technological society on the brink of implementing a fully digital infrastructure we face some acute problems. One being massive unemployment as a result of technology resulting in a society split into two classes, the haves and the have-nots. Anyone on the side of the haves would be well advised to take the warning contained in this play to heart. See Inexpressible Island even if you’re not into grand narratives because it’s still got the adventure part.

Inexpressible Island is playing at the Canadian Stage Theatre until Oct. 18.


  1. Excellent review of an astonishingly good play. I wonder if your saying Abbot “acts like a virus” led to Tarragon’s livestreaming of the play during the current pandemic. Certainly the isolation, the inwardness — and the for me new sense that each character seems to represent an aspect of the psyche makes this “massive” play a play for these times.

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