Have you heard of Jabez Wolffe? No, few people have. That’s something playwright and performer Giles Croft is seeking to remedy – and not only because he is a distant relative. He thinks the Glasgow swimmer deserves to be remembered, both for his pioneering cross-Channel attempts and for his gallus spirit of persistence. It’d be wrong to speak of Jabez in the same breath as Eddie the Eagle, but he had something of the skier’s “if at first you don’t succeed” attitude and dogged love of his chosen sport.
Oran Mor, Glasgow ***
Under the direction of Liz Carruthers – herself hitting a personal best with her 25th show for A Play, a Pie and a Pint – Croft presents his research material as an illustrated lecture complete with slides, archive film footage and a manikin ready to be smothered in grease.
Better known as the artistic director of Nottingham Playhouse, Croft approaches it like the one-person shows popularised by Jenna Watt, Rob Drummond and Kieran Hurley in which the storyteller is as present as the story’s subject. In this case, the connections aren’t always apparent – it’s not clear what Croft’s collection of guitars has got to do with endurance swimming – even if his decision to make his debut as a musician adds to the show’s quirky charm.
Indeed, it’s the unassuming homeliness of Channeling Jabez that makes it enjoyable – that and its litany of nearly successful record-breaking attempts that keep the audience cheering him on to the finishing line.
Oran Mor, today; Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, 11–15 April