The HMS M.33, an historic WWI-era warship now homed at the National Museum of the Royal Navy’s Historic Dockyard in Portsmouth, has been witness to numerous important moments in history, most notably the Gallipoli Campaign in 1915-1916.

Yet last week (22 May) on the ship’s 104th birthday, she experienced something entirely new when she hosted the UK premiere of award-winning playwright Finegan Kruckemeyer’s Boats, a play about two sailors and a tribute to life lived at sea.

Directed by Dr Erika Hughes, Senior Lecturer in Drama and Performance at the University of Portsmouth, Boats featured a cast of third-year students from the University’s BA (Hons) Drama & Performance and BA (Hons) Musical Theatre courses.

Boats was performed to an audience of Portsmouth schoolchildren, many of whom expressed a keen desire for more arts programming as part of their educational experience.

Dr Hughes said: The performance was staged as ‘site-specific promenade theatre,’ which took the audience on a journey through not only the script, but also the space where it is performed. Our audiences moved around this incredible ship during the entire show, and the HMS M.33 became a character in its own right.”

This approach provided a valuable learning experience for a number of third-year students in performance.

Max Silver, a current third-year student on the Drama and Performance course who served as the assistant director, said: “Boats was one of the most interesting performances I’ve had the pleasure to be a part of. Working on a site-specific production based around such an amazing location in the HMS M.33 was challenging, exciting, and very rewarding. Staging the performance promenade, allowing us to explore the whole ship, was fresh and fun for our audiences but also really allowed me to get to know the M.33 and come to love it as our little home for the show.”

Boats was performed in collaboration with guest artists Rocio von Jungenfeld from the University of Kent and Stephani Etheridge Woodson from Arizona State University, as well as the National Museum of the Royal Navy and the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. This marked the second collaboration this year between the Dockyard and the University’s School of Art, Design and Performance – earlier this year puppetry students performed pirate puppet tales for schoolchildren as part of the new ‘Horrible Histories’ exhibit.

Dr Hughes noted that Carmen Flynn, the Theatre Production Manager at the Historic Dockyard with whom the team collaborated closely on the performance, is former student of the Drama and Performance course. “One of the best parts of this experience was connecting current students with successful graduates such as Carmen, so as to open them up to the many possibilities available to someone with a drama degree,” Dr Hughes said.

On Friday 7 June the cast and crew will reunite for a question and answer session as well as the screening of a behind-the-scenes video as part of the University’s CCI Graduate Show. The free screening is at 6pm in the Studio 1 Theatre in White Swan Building.