Susan Stanley (Serena) and Bella Anne Padden (Rachel) in 'Fuck the Polar Bears'.
Andrew Whipp (Gordon) in 'Fuck the Polar Bears'
Salome R. Gunnarsdottir (Blundhilde), Andrew Whipp (Gordon), Susan Stanley (Serena) and Jon Foster in 'Fuck the Polar Bears'.
Bella Anne Padden (Rachel) and Andrew Whipp (Gordon) in 'Fuck the Polar Bears'
Andrew Whipp (Gordon), Jon Foster (Clarence), Salome R. Gunnarsdottir (Blundhilde) and Susan Stanley (Serena) in 'Fuck the Polar Bear'
Tanya Ronder's not-quite-great play about the cost of a perfect life.
Climate change is a notoriously tricky topic for theatre to tackle. All that science and stretching of the dramatic tension between cause and effect; the way the very words make you want to stick your fingers in your ears and go ‘la-la-la’. But Tanya Ronder, who wrote the Olivier-nominated adaptation of ‘Vernon God Little’ and the six-generation epic ‘Table’, is nothing if not ambitious. Her surreal new play is a compact family drama with a catastrophic global footprint, a stark message for those who retreat from responsibility behind their own four walls. In fact there are no walls here: just the perimeters of a living room drawn in light strips. They fizz ominously as the excesses of its inhabitants are laid bare.
Gordon and Serena aren’t just guilty of running the tumble dryer throughout the performance. He’s the CEO of an energy giant, masterminding a disastrous new policy that will screw the environment but facilitate his family’s move to Hampton. She’s a ‘yoga-but-not-quite’ teacher who leaves her daughter and the recycling to a fervently eco-conscious nanny. Like a Sweaty Betty-clad Lady Macbeth, Serena rebukes her husband with her own emptiness and urges him to murder the world if it will power up their marriage.
As played by Andrew Whipp and Susan Stanley, Gordon and Serena are comic, criminally selfish, and terrifyingly comprehensible. Their use of their daughter to justify their actions turns one of theatre’s most precious final-act clichés – the redemptive powers of children – on its head.
But the play’s emotional and metaphorical hearts are located insecurely elsewhere: in Gordon’s relationship with his brother, and a missing toy polar bear. There’s also a breakdown of Jack Nicholson proportions for which the mysterious blown lightbulbs and charger failures don’t prepare. But unfortunately the many brilliant lines (‘It’s that midnight feast when no one tells you to brush your teeth and go to bed’ says Gordon of his situation) don’t quite cohere into a great play.