It’s a canny device that gives Veitch scope to break into various characters – the dour captain, say, or a Scottish spruiker for the Highland and Island Emigration Society – and provides a gentle, reflective lens on a narrative that might otherwise risk being overwhelmed by wretchedness and suffering.
In a silver lining, James met his future wife aboard the Ticonderoga and his family grew and prospered in Australia. The thread of life continuing lends a nice counterbalance to the maritime catastrophe, and the presence of moody cello interludes from Veitch’s son Thomas engages a sense of continuity, as well as capturing the grim atmosphere.
The acting is secure: Veitch inhabits the roles through muscle memory and can summon accent, demeanour, and mannerism on demand. And yet he needs to trust himself, and the audience, more. It’s probably nerves after a long break, but he sometimes retreats into an inwardness that can leave viewers feeling shut out.
As the season rolls on, director Peter Houghton’s priority should be to open the performance to establish a more direct connection. This vivid and personal historical monodrama gives every reason to think that should be a simple task.