COMEDY
Eric's Tales of the Sea-a Submariner's Yarn
Noodle Palace
4.5 stars
REVIEW: KATE PRENDERGAST

As a young naval cadet of sixteen, Eric found himself 100 foot underwater, lungs squeezed of oxygen, and sinking fast. Attached to him was a flailing mass of training instructors and peers. All were frantically trying to save him, land a blow on him, or both.

This is our first dive into Eric's Tales of the Sea: a captivating and big-hearted chronicle of all the real-life adventures and misadventures of a British serviceman aboard a nuclear submarine. Though saved in this instance by another cadet called Dick- later to become his best friend-excitement, risk and mortal danger continue to tail Eric about the high and low seas, much like a rascally Kraken.

As the men behind the most enigmatic machines of war, submariners tend to be imagined as mysterious figures of Jules Verne extraction. Eric certainly looks very much the part of the veteran salt, with his salt-and-pepper beard clipped short and blond, curly hair. His turtle-necked white jumper drew some inflamed consternation from the crowd, though. "Why are you wearing a jumper?" wailed one audience member, frantically pumping at the air in front of her face with her Fringe World fan, "It's so hot!"

Yet Eric's character couldn't be more down-to-earth. What makes his story-telling feel so generous and uncontrived is that it's quite clearly without exaggeration. There's none of that kind of mountebank-inspired theatrics that some performers use to curry favour with their audience.

Instead, Eric's mode of storytelling is soaked to the gills in typical English understatement. It gives a pat counterpoint to the sometimes incredible events in the narrative, and his buoyant wit makes the more technical explanations behind things like decompression chambers interesting where they could be just dull.

Without wanting to give away any of the details, audiences can expect the kind of yarn you could only dream of overhearing in an foreign dockyard pub; one that you'd shout the teller a drink for, and keep shouting just to hear the tale run to its end.

At the heart of the story, though, is Eric's relationship with his friend Dick. His fond recollections of all the high jinks he and "Dick the Dodger" got up to- named so because he could get out of almost anything-is the most affecting element of the performance.

Surprising, warm, and uniquely delightful, the show won't leave you breathless with hysterics, but it will take you under so completely, when you leave the theatre you'll find yourself floating out on your own little narcotic high.

Eric's Tales of the Sea runs until February 16.

The West Australian

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