"fascinating, early eccentric environmentalist biog-play"
by Frank Hill for remotegoat on 11/07/18

There have been times in my life when I would happily have dropped everything, disappeared to the Lake District and spent the rest of my life living in a cave. The trouble was, I’d miss breakfast in bed, the next episode of Doctor Who and having Tesco handy when I needed a bottle of milk.

But the lack of creature comforts did not deter Millican Dalton who, in 1904, gave up his home and job to live a life in the great outdoors - often disappearing to a cave in Cumberland. The latter years of this great British eccentric's life are explored in PMacs production, ‘The Professor of Adventure’, performed at Footlights House in Salford, and written and performed by Peter Macqueen. We first meet Dalton as a man in his seventies struggling to remain independent during the years of the Second World War. He is an isolated character, trapped in his cave because of heavy snowfalls and engaging in conversations with people who may or may not be figments of his imagination. Time is spent on the minutia of life, making cups of coffee on a camp fire, preparing porridge for breakfast in the most primitive of conditions - and wondering if this independent lifestyle is really a cover for a deep and ingrained loneliness. This is the most dramatically gripping part of the play, concerned with his safety and sanity. Other scenes dealt more with his philosophy of life, and how resolutely he kept to it.

Peter Macqueen really gets under the skin of Dalton, presenting him as a man before his time, A vegetarian, pacifist and environmentalist, he earns a living acting as guide and mountain climber in his beloved Cumberland. He comes across as a man truly at one with nature. As his life story unfolds, we hear of his relationship with his brother Henry, and the mysterious Mabel, but above all the play explores his enduring belief that freedom is everything and that the simple life, lived alongside nature, is the most important and rewarding of all. This is a powerful performance by Peter Macqueen and his admiration for Dalton shines through.

Martin Johns’ set design is intimate and beautifully detailed, furnished with the paraphernalia a cave dweller may need to make life comfortable. Lighting effects for day, night and the changing seasons add texture to the piece. Stefan Escreet’s direction is sharp and well detailed, keeping the audience gripped even when the dramatic tensions in play are less evident.

Although part of the Manchester Fringe Theatre Festival, only five people attended the performance, which was a shame because it’s a fascinating piece about an amazing character. The venue, Footlights House, is close to Media City and easily accessible. Its fairly new on the scene and deserves much more support.

And ‘The Professor of Adventure’ is a bewitching play about a man I’d never heard of before who needs to be celebrated. Recommended.

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