Review written by Flossie Waite
A macrobert and Fish and Game Production
For ages 2 – 5
9th January – 25th January
Prepare for the most pretentious, ridiculous sentence I’ve penned in my review-writing career: I wish the two polar bears central to this play had more of a backstory. As they embarked on their adventure, with maps and backpacks, I didn’t understand their motivation. I’m not hating on imagination – I’ve enjoyed plays about everything from a tap-dancing mermaid to a talking prawn – but I do expect the elements of a production, whether it’s for 2- or 92-year olds, to make sense in the imaginative world it creates.*
Yes, most of this early years audience may not know how to feed or dress themselves, and might not be able to pick a polar bear out of a line up. But you mustn’t assume that that is the case, and therefore expect them to accept whatever weird and wonderful ideas you throw at them. Children are born curious, and become exceptionally vocal in a theatre – if things don’t add up, they won’t stop asking ‘What?’ and ‘Why?’
The Polar Bears Go Wild combines a lot of the ingredients that have worked elsewhere: it’s wordless, with likeable animals, music and a simple set that was used imaginatively, revealing surprises and secrets. However, as Pinterest has taught us, trying someone else’s recipe rarely results in the stunning soufflé casually depicted. The show is full of good ideas, but needs to be honed and edited to ensure that every element is serving this particular production.
I don’t want to throw the bears under the bus. There were delightful moments, like when the two bears eat a picnic, sheltering from the rain. Slurping their drinks, it becomes a competition to see who can do the longest and silliest satisfied ‘ahhhhh’ after a big gulp. They go on to pull out all their pots and pans and start flicking and drumming them, first rhythmically and tunefully, and then with gleeful abandon.
These bits prove a joy in noise that could be further explored, whilst still maintaining a deaf friendly production. Though there were the occasional sound effects and music peppered throughout, there are also moments of complete silence that sit awkwardly and allow the energy to drop – real enthusiasm or impatience should result in at least a squeak or a sigh. As a result, some of the funny choreography fell flat, and the actors engaged in quite a lot of cajoling before they got the audience reaction they wanted.
Here’s for a conclusion as arty and pompous as the first sentence: this show would really benefit from a dramaturg to help turn it into the really lovely piece of theatre it could be. As it is, the production charts two intrepid polar bears on an adventure that doesn’t quite take the audience along for the journey.
* This is different than wanting a narrative; I’ve come to understand that adults shouldn’t expect early years theatre to have a ‘story’.