Tanya Raabe caught an intrepid tale of discovery at the Arena Theatre, Wolverhampton
The Conquest of the South Pole is a fascinating, contemporary play about the problem of long-term unemployment, in which four disabled friends stave off the despair of joblessness by re-enacting Amundsen's expedition to the South Pole.
As the play began my initial thought was: Oh - I thought I was going to be watching a funny play, not a contemporary dance performance. The opening scene was a series of dance/ movement tableaux. This lead to me being somewhat bemused about what I thought I was going to be watching. Lulled into an odd sense of security, I didn’t make a connection between the dance and the story until the question- and-answer session afterwards. It was explained that the dance pieces were meant to set up the characters and their relationship with one another. However, I felt the actors were strong enough in their delivery for the audience to grasp the idea behind it without this strange beginning.
The play really began when the dialogue started. The actors were awesome in their characterisations and each one held the stage perfectly. They took us on an undetermined imaginary journey to the South Pole that was a mesmerising metaphor for delving into the black hole of disability and unemployment. The four characters, played by Andrew McLay as Salttery, Garry McFarlane as Braukmann, Peter Davies as Stevens (Moose) and Rob Lee as Butcher created a weave of relationships, giving the audience a basis for exploring issues around the alpha male disabled ego, disability and sexuality. Paula Thompson was awesome in her portrayal as Mrs Braukmann, who was the catalyst for exploring the notion of carer/wife/sexual partner. The story did a good job of contextualising notions of employment and unemployment within a contemporary society.
The set was minimal: two screens covered in polythene. The screens were moved around the stage to create different looks for each act. This technique was extremely simple but hugely effective, creating bags of atmosphere. It allowed the stage to be changed into completely different rooms. I particularly liked the scene where the screens created a dark alleyway where the friends carried their stash, robbed from a shop, backpacks and Arctic coats for their journey. Occasionally images projected on to the screens gave a third dimension to the scene.
Looking into unemployment from a disability perspective, this play takes you on a fantastical cultural journey. This was the first time I have seen a production by Theatre Resource and it was of a high standard, full of quirks, drama and laughs.
The Conquest of the South Pole was written by Manfred Karge, directed by Jeff Banks and Anna Wallbank and designed by Kimie Nakano.