Whoever is in charge of choosing the plays for the Bush Theatre certainly has a social concussion. So far this year they’ve covered themes from racism to legal aids cuts, and tonight, we come upon global warming. One thing they can never be accused of is not tackling some meaty topics.
Knowing the theme of the play, the title does sort of speak for itself really, but the polar bear also takes physical form in the young daughter’s stuffed toy, lost somewhere in the home that the parents are trying to sell in order to move to somewhere nicer by the river, a move being made possible by the father’s high powered job in an energy company and who is working on a deal that will make the move even more possible.
Added to the stress of the lost toy and father’s job, we have the wife, stressed about everything in life and desperate to give her daughter everything she can to make sure she has the best start in life, then the energy conscious au pair from Iceland who is stressed about the tiniest little piece of silver foil in the bin rather than it being in the recycling, and finally the ex-drug addict brother, happy with his simple life and girlfriend who “isn’t a looker but she makes me happy” but stressed about making amends with the brother who he admires. Oh and there is also the hamster that needs its twice daily exercise. There is a lot of stress in this household.
And as ever with the Bush Theatre, it’s all played out on a stage that has been so well thought out. One of the joys of attending a new play here is in seeing how the space has been laid out; this time around they return to a centre stage, with seating around the outside. And with just 144 seats its always intimate, no matter where you sit. You’re so close to the action at times you could almost reach out and touch the actors; in fact tonight I was sitting alongside one of the four entrances into the stage and at a rather dramatic point between young daughter and father, was almost face to face with him as he raved and slowly lost his mind. It was slightly disturbing to say the least. The knife in his hand didn’t help much either.
The set is as simple as always here; one room, a few items of furniture, walls defined by strips of lights, which are used for great effect as the play progresses, and almost everything else is left to the imagination and aided by sound and light effects. The four exits off stage and between the seated audience become the rest of the house; through one door you know it’s the kitchen, you can even hear the tumble dryer, much to the dismay of the au pair who feels they could hang clothes out to dry!
It’s played out at a fast, at times hectic, pace, and over and done in 90 minutes flat without a break, just to add to the stress that is building. And to drum home the central message of global warming, there is a lot of talk of energy consumption, mobile phones are constantly plugged in, the aforementioned tumble dryer comes on and off, lights flicker, and we see family life on the edge for the first hour as mum and dad rush around with their busy important lives, while brother and au pair try to stay calm and enjoy the simpler life. And at the same time, they all seek the lost polar bear.
The play is certainly funny, the writing keeps it moving along nicely and the staging keeps your eyes focused and your mind engaged. It’s not until the last half hour that the play starts to really preach it’s message, but in a way that isn’t as clear cut as you might expect. Yes the message is that we are killing the planet, but the central argument becomes one of whether one person can make a difference, or even whether many people can change things. And if I was to be critical at all, I’d say here it slightly fails, as over a short space of time we go through too many options and thoughts, although it is probably the intention to show how things cannot be as black or white as we would wish. But this one issue aside, it’s a play worth an evening out.
And as ever with anything I’ve seen at Bush Theatre, you do walk out knowing you have not only enjoyed an evening out seeing a great play as well as knowing that you will be discussing this for the rest of the evening afterwards with whoever you may have seen it with.