THE CONQUEST OF THE SOUTH POLE
by Manfred Karge translated by Tinch Minter and Anthony Vivis.
Arcola Theatre (Arcola 1) 24 Ashwin Street E8 3DL To 26 May 2012.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat 2.30pm.
Runs 1hr 30min No interval.
then Rose Theatre Kingston
24-26 High Street KT1 1HL 29 May-2 June.
7.30pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm (mats very heavily booked).
TICKETS: 08444 821556.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 30 April.
Adventure on benefits in vigorous production of forceful drama.
Relevance can be a dubious dramatic quality. But this play’s vitally full of the stuff, despite being from 1986 East Germany. Its young men – ‘feral’ no doubt in newspaper terms – hang around unemployed apart from the occasional mind-numbing job. Their use of language, ritual and manner set them apart from their bland, blank society. One is married, a child on the way, and his wife tussles to separate him from the others. Till the unfairness of what society offers hits her too.
When another married pair arrive they bring traded humiliation, violence and a patched-up nose. In such a world what is there to do but leave it for an invented existence? That’s what Slupianek offers his fellows in reinventing the age of exploration and purpose, re-enacting Amundsen’s journey to the South Pole.
Throughout, their energy and purpose contrast reality – the play starts with a suicide attempt and ends comparing polar whiteness with the walls of a massive job centre – the centre’s whiteness both a bleak contrast and something enhanced by the imaginary exploration.
Among the young men’s punchy energy, their vigorous argument and language, the opposition of ideas between Slupianek and Buscher, who reads enough to provoke Shacketon as a more realistic model (he never made it), and the group’s interplay, plus the refusal of two wives to be sidelined, Karge’s key moment has the expeditionaries march round, one step for every kilometre of the final polar trek, counting-out their steps. It should be tedious, but becomes comic, and ends a triumphant declaration of their existence.
Stephen Unwin directed South Pole in Edinburgh during the 1980s, another unemployment-stricken decade. Fine as that was, this energetic, alert and forceful cast needn’t fear comparisons. O-T Fagbenie’s energetic leader and Mark Field’s Buscher have the qualities of leader and vocal dissenter, Emma Cunniffe the patient realism of a pregnant woman wanting a husband with an income rather than an adventure, and the cast overall forming a perfect ensemble of agitation and group involvement. And the Arcola’s a perfect environment for Hayden Griffin’s minimalist set, a space within the environs of poverty.
Frankieboy: Chris Ashby.
Braukmann: San Crane.
La Braukmann: Emma Cunniffe.
Slupianek: O-T Fagbenie.
Buscher: Mark Field.
Seiffert: Andrew Gower.
Rosi: Lauren Johns.
Rudi: Daniel Weyman.
Director: Stephen Unwin.
Designer: Hayden Griffin.
Lighting: Sherry Coenen.
Composer: Corin Buckeridge.
Assistant director: MaryClare O’Neill.