Polar Bears

Wow.

That could, infact be my whole review. I was blown away by Polar Bears at the Donmar Warehouse. This is Mark Haddon’s (Curious Incident of a Dog in the Night-time fame) first play outing as far as I know and it was a truly wonderful experience. The Donmar continues to impress, producing some of the best theatre in London right now.

With incredible performances from it’s cast, this touching story is sort of a snapshot into living with bi-polar and what it’s like to be around that world. It’s fast paced, beautifully wordy, comic, tragic and heartwarming all in an hour and a halfs slick package.

The set (Soutra Gilmour) is stark with the broken ceiling hanging above it, and the clear walls at the back providing us an almost constant reflection of the action, clever considering the subject matter. The different levels of the stage provided an inventive canvas for the piece to play out on. The lighting (Jon Clark) highlighted, picked out, warmed and isolated the action magnificently and the soundscapes (Ben and Max Ringham) provided a haunting background to the poetry of the lines.

The story itself is not an easy one, and I won’t spoil anything here (although I am tempted to relay the whole story just so you can be part of it!) Suffice to say it tells a lifestory extremely poignantly in segments which blend seamlessly into one another. You need to pay attention but with the well crafted dialogue (oftentimes lyrically poetic) and skilled pace changes this is no problem. The play doesn’t paint ‘goodies and baddies’, it presents you with a set of circumstances, most effectively making you ask yourself, “What if I were in those shoes. What would I do, who would I be and how would I cope.”

The cast were flawless in their execution of what must be a hard slog for them every performance as they get very little breathing time and the nature of the beast (very poor pun intended) means they have to exhibit a huge range in a short space of time.

Paul Hilton as the businessman brother looking out for his sister in a touching yet scarily overbearing way was tremendous.  Celia Imrie’s mother was a ferocious, overwhelming and yet also tender performance demonstrating the angst a mother in such a situation might feel.  David Leon’s roles were both comedic and touching, with his ‘explanation’ monologue in the hospital very personal and his more ‘medical role’ rather spookily authentic.  The young ladies performance was a solid piece of delivery as well (apologies – I am not sure if she was Skye Bennet or Alex Sykes but I am sure, given the quality of the overall piece either would have been just as impressive)

Jodhi May’s delivery was heartfelt, traumatic and turbulent, swinging wildly between moods as the part demands, with her fairy tale story being passionate and the different aspects of her character providing great warmth and showing the terrible ravages of such an illness.

Richard Coyle’s performance was flawless, utterly believable and a joy to be part of, I hung on every word and was totally convinced he was the ‘carer’ with a real life perspective, combined with his own philosophic outlook.  His vocal skills also made his passages flow off the tongue extremely elegantly.

I found the direction to be a work of art, and Jamie Lloyd has a huge amount to be proud of, although I am sure it was a team effort, but his work should rightly be applauded.

This was one of the best pieces of theatre I have seen in a long time.  I cannot claim to have understood and followed every word of it but that didn’t matter a jot.  If someone offered me tickets to go again tonight I would go again without question.  I look forward immensely to seeing Mark Haddons next expedition into the theatric.  I have read a few less favourable reviews and they baffle me.  I was blown away by this piece of work and I encourage you to be also.  You may have to beg / bribe / borrow / steal to get a ticket, but do so.  It’s well worth it.

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Published in: on April 23, 2010 at 11:28 am  Comments (1)  
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