Friday, 4 May 2012

A rare theatre review

I think we've established that I can't do criticism of any kind, but especially not theatre criticism. But I thought I'd give it a shot, just to mix it up a bit.

We went to see the Conquest of the South Pole at the Arcola. There was some irony in this because it's a play about being unemployed (it's a revival of a play that launched the careers of Alan Cummings & Ewan Bremner in the Edinburgh Fringe in the 80s, an East German playwright's play translated.)

I've given up the theatre temporarily due to reasons of no money but a friend persuaded me to go and I recklessly said yes before realising the tickets were £18.  This is quite steep for fringe theatre, even though they've finally got their central heating up and running (before it was like watching a play in a freezer.)

Now the Arcola are in Dalston and bend over backwards to try & make theatre accessible to people - pay what you can Tuesdays, concessions for the unemployed - the trouble is I'm not signing on though I don't have a job, so I'm poor but don't have the ID you need for concessions. Bah. It was turning the knife to sit there and watch a play about how shit it is being unemployed and humiliated when I couldn't really afford the ticket price. 

These 4 men are desperate, it opens with a blackly comic scene of one of them trying to hang himself. Another has the all the energy and charisma to persuade them to launch an imaginary expedition to the South Pole in their attic, recreating the Norwegians' journey,even robbing a camping shop for supplies and learning how to cook seal meat.

He is messianic and gives them a sense of purpose and mission, though one of them says they should really recreate Shackleton's expedition, because it ended in failure, and they know all about failure. The affection between them and the way they care for each other was nice. I wish I had fellow jobless mates to hang out with & lift each others' morale.
The wife of one of them has a job in a chip shop, she tries to bring her husband  down to earth. I felt glad at the end that they rope her into the fantasy expedition, because her job as a woman otherwise just seemed to be nagging - maybe it was just the way the actor played it.

It was incredibly wordy and the language was a good mixture of poetic imaginative flights of fantasy and down to earth, scorching despair. It was beautifully acted by these four young men, they were throwing energy at you, but it was all a bit too... too shouty for me.   You wanted to tell them to calm down a bit because the lines were getting lost. Coupled with an uneven tone possibly due to the translation from German, it had less impact than it might, considering how close to the bone it should have been for me.

Best bit - the confident leader one having a meltdown in the job centre, using the metaphor of losing his way in the ice for giving in to despair and hopelessness.

What else? There was a whole family (all wearing hats) sitting in one row in the audience, they had kids of about 7 or 8 with them. At one point an actor unleashed the C word and the grandad got up and led the 7 year old out. Too late, the C bomb had already detonated. What were they thinking, and what was the theatre thinking, it just wasn't a play for children at all?

Also I am a terrible wuss. At one point the main character cuts himself accidentally with an axe, and though I KNEW it was fake blood and, you know, acting, I felt all faint, like I needed a lie down.

All in all, 3 polar ice picks out of 5. Points lost for shoutiness, and making me come over all faint.


  1. I once went out with a girl who never, ever swore. Ever. Really. It was astonishing. I'd never encountered anything like this at the time, and asked her sister, who has a 'normal' swearing volume, about this. She couldn't point out a reason, but did inform me that her father swore like a sailor (and indeed, literally was a sailor), in their presence all the time without regard for age (both girls had started using 'fucking' by the time they were six).

    So that 7 year old isn't doomed to a lifetime of c-spamming the conversation.

    Re concessions, I used to rent a dark room for photography, years back. They took my word for it when I told them I was a student (and then for two months of unemployment) and charged me about 10% of the regular rates. No evidence required. As soon as I got a job, I paid full rates, and made them a donation out of my first month's pay. Trust goes a long way.

  2. Jeez, couldn't spendy family have had the talk about words before leaving home?
    Your review has me intrigued about the play. I imagine lots of emotion around the idea of the Shackleton choice. Failure on the surface maybe, but that journey and his leadership was also a tale of incredible achievement; does the play touch on that at all?

  3. Miscommunicant, that's nice. I can understand why they ask for proof though, otherwise everyone would be trying to get concessions. It was kind of funny that they left when they heard a swear word, because the whole play up til then was massively age-inappropriate anyway.

    Arabella, well quite. We wondered if they were family members of the cast, but it was still odd. Well, it sort of refers to Shackleton - parallels withcameraderie & keeping each other going. It's really about how fantasy and imagination help people to survive, I guess.