Donmar Warehouse 41 Earlham Street WC2H 9LX To 22 May 2010.
Mon-Sat 7.30 Mat Thu, Sat 2.30pm.
Audio-described 8 May 2.30pm (+Touch Tour 1.30pm).
BSL Signed 17 May.
Captioned 26 April.
Runs 1hr 30min No interval.
Tickets: 0870 060 6624.
Review: Carole Woddis 10 April.
Challenging those who go to see it.
According to Sir David Hare on Start the Week (12 April), the Donmar is reactionary because it concentrates on revivals, especially of T S Eliot and Enid Bagnold. Hare obviously hasn’t been paying attention. If he had, he’d have known, for one, that Michael Grandage’s revival of The Chalk Garden was a master class in middle-class discomfiture, puncturing as much as it delivered in bons mots.
It must be ever so slightly galling therefore for Grandage, the Donmar’s artistic luminary, given that the present incumbent is actually a first play and World premiere by Mark Haddon, award-winning author of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, the novel that highlighted Asperger’s syndrome – not exactly a ready made topic for popular acclaim. Unlike bankers, for example.
I hope it’s not a case of sour grapes by Sir David. For Polar Bears like Curious Incident, is hugely challenging and progressive, dealing as it does with another mental health issue – bi-polar, or manic depression. Deeply unsettling, it is magnificently acted and directed and sends you away with no easy answers.
Going into some very dark places, it stars Jodhi May as Kay, the wife of Richard Coyle’s philosopher husband, John, and opens with a bang. John declares to Kay’s obnoxious brother Sandy (Paul Hilton) that Kay is in the cellar. He has just killed her.
From murder, we move backwards, sometimes in what seems random succession, through early encounters, family tensions, nightmares, `voices’ (Jesus pays a memorably urbane visit), an appearance from a putrefying corpse, whilst, at the same time, making searching enquiries into the nature of self and the threat of oblivion.
Somehow, despite all this, Haddon, director Jamie Lloyd, designer Soutra Gilmour and especially Jodhi May keep us from sinking totally into the mire.
Haddon has an unerring sense of wonder as well as wickedly absurd appreciation of the human condition. As a play, Polar Bears oscillates between tutorial and literary. But it is also searing in its exploration of dependency and employs a child’s imaginative richness to describe exclusion brought on by mental illness, gloriously rendered by Jodhi May.
Sandy: Paul Hilton.
John: Richard Coyle.
Kay: Jodhi May.
Margaret: Celia Imrie.
Jesus: David Leon.
Girl: Skye Bennett, Alice Sykes.
Director: Jamie Lloyd.
Designer: Soutra Gilmour.
Lighting: Jon Clark.
Sound/Composers: Ben and Max Ringham.