Spooky Ship at SS Great Britain: A warning issued; a warning ignored

Spooky Ship at SS Great Britain: A warning issued; a warning ignored

‘By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes’ Act IV, Scene I, Macbeth

175 years ago, the SS Great Britain took passengers on board of all ages and backgrounds, but not everyone disembarked. Some of them still roam the meandering passageways of the ship, and these dark souls are the inspiration for some of the characters of Spooky Ship.

Spooky Ship is an immersive experience from the moment the audience step onto the docks. Immediately we are greeted with a stark warning from a drowned sailor. He warns us of a mystic ritual: ‘the crossing of the line’. Those who don’t pay homage to King Neptune are forced to a life of entrapment about the iron vessel, SS Great Britain.

A quiet unease pervades the ship as soon as one embarks. The creaking, uneven floor boards and distant ghoulish moans set the mood. As we walk along the boat, ghosts appear, earnestly telling the story of why they are trapped and isolated in the floating prison for eternity. From manslaughter to adultery, from pimps and prostitutes, each ghost has their own eternal torment to reconcile. Driven by a continuous uncovering of the characters’ pasts, the play functions as a shining example of tactile terror: the brilliant costumes and audience interaction make the experience all too tangible and real.

It has to be said that, as an immersive experience, it’s never too imposing. Productions such as these can have indiscernible sound effects which force the audience to strain all of their senses in order to study the details of the play. However the intermittent faint screams and moans still maintain a frightening unease. Even when the audience know that something is about to happen, one can’t help but feel a paranoid, impending dread. This is complemented by the moody dribbles of light which peer through the cracks in the boards, and the impeccable special effects makeup (Bath Academy of Media Makeup).

The special effects makeup exemplifies the performances of each ghoul. Dirty, grungy ‘French pox’ torments the face of a syphilis-ridden pimp whose only sadistic desire is to spread his disease to every woman he can. A severed head shows the true horror of the ship’s surgeon. The actors also employ their physicality, using the unusual stage to full effect, making the most of the confined spaces. They make no apologies for their up-close, and purposefully grotesque performances.

However, the audience only gets a glimpse of the true nature of each character as we are ushered into the rooms. An uneasy feeling squirms beneath each character’s façade when we are first introduced to them and it is subtly revealed why these vile apparitions still roam the ship unable to find rest. Some lighter moments which are dotted throughout the play keep the atmosphere from being unbearably heavy, but still maintain the ghoulish nature of the production.

Spooky Ship delivers as a truly frightful experience, leaving the audience with a stewing sense of dread even after they leave the ship.


Five Stars

Gregory Pollard