Edinburgh Fringe 2015
New Year, 2015. Nelson’s Column. The party goers are on their way home but the admiral is just getting started.. What follows is a highly skilled performance of a well researched show that explores the historical figure of Nelson – his life, his career and his legacy.
The Zoo’s Sanctuary theatre is an unusual space – high ceilings and raked seating, which elevate the audience leaving them to stare down onto the stage, distance the performer and create an unfamiliar environment. It must be a difficult space to occupy, especially for a lone performer. However, Nicholas Collett is clearly a seasoned actor and has risen to the challenge with ease. He moves fluidly between costume and character changes utilizing the space proficiently. The minimalist set is maneuvered to imply a variety of different environments and sound effects are expertly timed to evoke battle scenes, modern city life and voyages at sea. It is a crafty performance, and great to watch a skilled performer at work.
Collett has constructed an intelligent script that covers an impressive mix of historical testimony, myth, biographical material and original writing. The product is a compelling account of Nelson’s exploits as both a young sailor and accomplished naval officer. The narrative jumps from epic sea battles to the quiet ruminations of retired soldiers and Nelson’s musings about the present day as he surveys London from atop his column. Collett, as Nelson, is charming and reflective, offering us an opportunity to consider the psyche of this historical figure and the implications of war from 18th century Britain to date.
At times, I was slightly confused by the performance. The sheer number of characters is a bit overwhelming and I found myself getting lost as we moved from battle to battle. This was more to do with my lack of knowledge on the subject and I’m sure that anyone with an interest in this historical period would find the material that Collett has unearthed easy to follow. The political dimension of the piece is clearly stated. For myself, this gave the show a sentimental tinge that compromised the power of its message. Such qualms are more to do with personal taste than anything else. Overall, a highly skilled performance and a well crafted, thoroughly researched one man show.