Power of Sail

Reviewer's Rating

Power of Sail looks at the chaos ensued after a Harvard professor is set on inviting a white supremacist to lecture in his symposium on extremism. The play tackles the moral implications of such a decision, the student outrage and the consequences that come with it.

Paul Grellong has written a very current play – addressing hate speech, free speech and cancel culture – it proves its relevance and makes some interesting arguments on both sides. Greying, childish professor Charles Nichols maintains that to fight hate speech you need “more speech”. His reasoning for the invitation boils down to his own corrupt agenda, as the play reveals each character’s ‘flaws’ – to put it nicely.

His fellow castmates – all but the other white male – urge him to reconsider his decision given that lecturing at Harvard is prestigious and just being there “is a win”.

Julian Ovenden delivers a compelling performance as the professor, skilfully capturing the intricate layers of narcissism and alcoholism that intertwine with his ignorance.

A scene of significance with Baxter (Giles Terera) an old protégé of Nichol’s, and Lucas (Michael Benz) a favoured PhD student, was the highlight of the play. Exposing hidden prejudices and insidious thoughts that definitely caught the audience off guard. When looking at themes of racism, this encounter addressed them head on. Both actors excelled in their respective roles and left memorable marks, hats off to them.

Set & Costume Designer, Paul Farnsworth, merits recognition for his meticulous designs that transport viewers into hyper-realistic environments, akin to a blockbuster film. From the meticulously crafted office settings to the nuanced accessories adorning the characters, Farnsworth’s attention to detail is evident throughout. Notably, the authenticity of the PhD student’s bags, perfectly tailored to their gender, adds depth to the character portrayal. The professor’s office, adorned with shelves overflowing with books and elegantly panelled wooden walls, exudes an aura of scholarly sophistication. The manipulation of the set, such as repurposing the brown panelled walls to serve as versatile backdrops, seamlessly ties together visual motifs across scenes. Overall production was seamless, with nifty transitions between scenes overcast with voice-overs of the news and projections of tweets.

The play’s overarching metaphor, woven with maritime references and encapsulated in its title, appeared to lack resonance. Whether this disconnect stemmed from a potential generational gap or a need for greater clarity within the script remains uncertain.

Everything ended abruptly, with no discernible conclusion. Certain revelations arguably take away from the important discourse initially introduced. The conversation surrounding the invitation of the white supremacist posed a moral challenge, with both perspectives presenting seemingly valid points. However, as the true intentions and unsavoury traits of certain characters came to light, any lingering uncertainty evaporated. This stark revelation not only solidified the moral stance but also seemed to deflect from the deeper questions initially posed by the play.


The Menier Chocolate Factory 

Writer: Paul Grellong

Dir: Dominic Dromgoole

Set & Costume Designer: Paul Farnsworth

Cast includes: Julian Ovenden, Tanya Franks, Michael Benz, Katie Bernstein

Until Sunday 12th May

Running time: 1 hour 45 mins (no interval)

Review by Sofia Moran