If you wanted to map the contours of the patriarchy, a container ship would be a pretty good place to do it. That is where playwright Chloë Moss places Corrina, a female officer who joins an all-male crew on an ocean crossing from Felixstowe to Singapore.
She meets the softly-softly captain whose genial demeanour is a front for maintaining male authority. Then comes the old flame who seems nice enough until he crosses the line between practical jokes and gaslighting. She sees hope in one decent bloke, a Filipino deckhand, only to find that economic exploitation makes his loyalty provisional. And, all around her, are under-the-breath grumbles from men who would sooner keep the sexes apart.
In the lead role, an impressive Laura Elsworthy deals with this self-supporting male world in the best way she can: with feet rooted and hands in pockets, she is all brash humour and quick retorts. Not giving an inch, she plays the men at their own game. She is vulnerable, yes, but ferocious with it.
There is material here for a claustrophobic TV series along the lines of the BBC submarine drama Vigil, but in this Headlong/Everyman co-production, it seems much less suited to the stage. On Moi Tran’s imposing panelled set, sometimes dwarfing the actors in its ocean-going enormity, the script floats prosaically around the onboard characters, establishing relationships but making no wider comment nor imaginative leap.
Moss recognises the potential to raise questions about not only the sexes, but also colonialism, capitalism and power, the ship’s two-tier crew reflecting the imbalance and injustice of the global economy. Yet these themes remain largely latent as she dives into a no-means-no conflict between Corrina and Mike Noble’s slippery Will, her former friend. The ship could be a microcosm of society, yet the play remains more particular than universal.
A running motif involving karaoke does not change that. Neither do the extravagant dream sequences, with their stormy video, flashing lights and sleep-walking crew members, compensate for the lack of theatricality. Director Holly Race Roughan draws forth strong performances, but Corrina, Corrina drifts in shallow waters.
Corrina, Corrina is at the Everyman, Liverpool, until 4 June.