In Play Reviews

Corrib Theatre is back with the second play in its season of contemporary Irish plays, Lifeboat. This the extraordinary true story of two teenage girls–Bess Walder (Britt Harris), 15, of Liverpool, and Beth Cummings (Kayla Lian), 14, of London–who clung to an overturned lifeboat for 19 terrifying hours in the northern Atlantic Ocean after their ship was torpedoed by the Germans in World War II and sank, killing two-thirds of its passengers and crew.

Kayla Lian and Britt Harris cling to life and hope in Lifeboat at Corrib Theatre. Photo by Adam Liberman.

This short but fierce drama by Nicola McCartney explores one of the lesser known but extraordinary measures parents on the British Isles resorted to during World War II to keep their children safe.  “Operation Pied Piper” began September 1, 1939, as Britain went to war with Germany after the Polish invasion. Kids were transported by sea to Canada to wait out the war.

When then-13 Beth Cumming heard of the project, she looked upon it as a grand adventure and begged her parents to let her go. As the war intensified, her parents did agree to send her and her younger brother Lewis abroad. Bess Walder, though not excited about leaving home, was sent by her parents to stay with an aunt in Canada. The girls, along with 88 other child evacuees, set sail from Liverpool on The City of Benares September 13, 1940. They met aboard ship. Four days out to sea the ship was sunk.

Only 11 children survived. During their struggle to survive, the girls share their stories of families, adventures, hopes, and dreams. The silly coltishness of earlier times in their lives provides a stark contrast to the reality of their plight on the sea and the physicality and resolve required just to stay alive.

“At its core, Lifeboat is a play about resilience,” said play Director Avital Shira. “These two young women defy the odds through connection, story, and the will to save the other to ultimately survive longer than humans should be able in the middle of the Atlantic. The world is dark at the moment, and it’s especially important now to harness the power of human resilience and remind ourselves that if we find our common humanity, we have the ability to keep each other afloat.”

This is the Northwest premiere of Lifeboat, which is staged at the Northwest Children’s Theatre, 1819 NW Everett, Portland, through February 4. It is a show appropriate for all ages.


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