Polar Bear

So last weekend we went to see "Polar Bear" by Mark Haddon and I was really looking forward to it.  I had been quite disappointed to hear initially that we could not get seats, which also surprised me because I had it on good authority that the reviews were quite mixed.  So all the more exciting to be going and even taking a friend along and dinner to follow after the matinee.  Sadly our friend's partner was called away to Mexico City, and I think he missed out on something he may very well have enjoyed a great deal.

There is no interval and the performance is an hour and a half, but after seeing it I can quite see how no break is a necessary part to the entire piece.  The narrative is not chronological and as a result a break could add to any confusion.  I loved the set and the way it worked, it was not quite "in the round" but it had that feeling to it.  No one actor "upstaged" any other, though Celia Imrie's performance was masterful, if you can use that word in the context.  I was embarrassed on entering the foyer to get her name wrong and think it was Imelda Staunton.

If I had to single any one actor as impressing me it would actually be the female lead though.  She played the part of Kelly who as it turns out is the manic depressive in the play.  When the play starts she is in fact dead, or at least we are led to believe so. As the narrative moves along and back and forth in time I personally began to wonder if there was some ambiguity on that score, if in fact her husband had become deranged and she was actually in Oslo and not the body in the cellar.

Our friend noticed and we all agreed that since we realise bipolar disorder is a big part of the play then we all thought the husband was the person affected by it (and of course he was, but only indirectly).  It is not until the change in scene that it becomes apparent Kelly is the primary focus for the bipolar, though there is the shadow of her father and his depressive suicide hanging over the whole play menacingly.

Later we have a Jesus figure (several perhaps!), and I especially loved the scene where he said true love is when the person you love does not know your name and went on to itemise the stages of decomposition of a corpse and the associated "symptoms". This was interesting, the husband is a philosophy professor and I felt we were being played with for Mr Haddon to display a knowledge of the subject on a par with mine (IE very amateur!).  Mark Haddon always manages to irritate me at some level, and in this play it was the mention of a coach tour through the philosophers of the ages and the "stopping at Kierkegaard for someone to be sick" which I thought was a cheap laugh (I have a LOT of respect for the Dane).

On leaving the theatre none of us could understand the poor reviews - apparently it was slated by quite a few critics - but since we believed there were good reviews too we settled on the play having "bipolar reviews"!  Over dinner I asked everyone what they thought they would remember from the play (we had all enjoyed it thoroughly).  For me ultimately it is the subject of suicide, mental disorder, family, and the ensuing trauma from the act and ripples down the generations that shall be my abiding interest and memory.

 

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