New UK play spotlights harassment and male prejudice at sea

May 23, 2022 | Seafarers' Rights and Welfare, Seafaring, Society and Culture

A review by guest writer Jo Stanley

It’s no fluke that the cast of path-breaking new stage play Corrina, Corrina comprises not only white guys, nor that the theme is asymmetrical power. Headlong’s production is bravely tackling the stuff of theatrical success, even if it is about human lack of success in being fair.

Filipinos are over a quarter of the global maritime work force, and women are 2 per cent of it. Yet few of the plays and films in the global north ever feature seafarers from the Philippines as key characters. So this is a treat, the more so as their parts are so nuanced.

This six-handed play, which has just opened at the Everyman& Playhouse Theatre in Liverpool, the historic UK port, pushes both buttons: race and gender. It runs from 17 May to 4 June.

Few of the plays and films in the global north ever feature seafarers from the Philippines as key characters. So this is a treat, the more so as their parts are so nuanced.

The principal female character — indeed, tellingly, the only woman aboard — is Third Mate Corinna Wilkinson (played by an intense Laura Elsworthy). Corrina is a woman facing two white male colleagues’ wrong-headed behaviour around sexual harassment.

They’re aboard MSC Keto, headed from Felixstowe to Singapore. The principal male character is Angelo (loveable James Bradwell) a deckhand, and his two colleagues, the narky Rafael (Martin Sarreal) and the circumspect Rizal (Angelo Paragoso).

All three are Filipino and they know that the price seafarers pay: ‘Dollar for homesick’. In this patriarchal jail loaded with containers they’re all too aware that shipping industry politics mean they have no power over white authority, and that the female of the species may be an even trickier category.

Always bad luck for a woman to be on board…. No offence’ Rizal greets Corinna. ‘Some taken, I’m not gonna lie’ Corrina looks him directly. That’s how it is. Women working at sea today know that male shipmates can still be silos of centuries of superstition – and that discrimination is subtle as well as overt.

Corrina in a verbal confrontation with one of the Filipino crew members
Photo credit: Helen Murrary

The Filipino crews’ gendered unease is worlds away from the complex misogyny of white First Officer Will Lewis (creepy Mike Noble), who becomes Corrina’s bête noir and almost her nemesis.

People get driven to intense reactions, even to madness, on ships. They can also enjoy odd and intense companionableness — which used to be called ‘Board of Trade Friendships.’

Without giving away any spoilers in this witty and subtle thriller, it’s still possible to reveal that if you’re in the audience you’ll have two drastic shocks: what Angelo does as a way to cope with his honey-tongued loan shark in Quezon City, and what Corrina does to revenge herself upon a narcissistic wolf in sheep’s clothing.

This profound, beautiful and wry thriller by Chloë Moss involved much research including with the charity Kanlungan and seafaring women. It understands life on ship, the potential deadly effects of gas lighting and fear on people’s mental health, and the lonely toxicity of bigotry – both racist and sexist.

Towards the end Rafael tells Corrina to go and join the other officers: ‘your people.’ ‘They’re not my people,’ she protests, traumatised by the evidence of this that she has just witnessed.

Neither are we,’ Rafael tells her.

She finds she belongs to no ‘home’: not on the high-tech bridge with ‘shameless’ patriarchal white men, including the Moby Dick-loving captain (smug David Crellin); not in the scruffy mess with the Filipinos who know how to treat people humanely but imagine that being a white officer means she is positioned far from them.

Director Holly Race Roughan has created a very moving production. Hierarchical social relations are made all the more clear by a split-level set and the life’ potential to drive you star-crazy is illuminated by many atmospheric lighting effects.

Corrina, Corrina is an educational tragedy, set in a real and odd offshore world where Dolly Parton’s ‘Jolene’ can save a suicide and a shared rosary can be both a failed weapon and a love token.

About the author

Jo Stanley is a British writer and creative historian who works with museums, television, theatre, social media, universities, and in the community. She holds a Ph.D from Lancaster University and specialises in women who have gone to sea and grappled with the problems of gender discrimination and harassment.

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