Right where was I? Theatre....
Owen booked tickets last week for the Mark Haddon play POLAR BEARS at the Donmar. I presume he was working on the theory that as we enjoyed WAR HORSE so much then we were bound to enjoy this. Yeeeees...I had read some reviews for the play as I was not expecting to see it so had a good idea of what I was going to see, however there were some surprises - namely that it was only 90 minutes long. So we took our seats, along with Janet Street Porter, Damian Lewis and Helen McCrory, in the back row of the Donmar stalls, somewhere where I will happily sit to watch 90 minutes traffic of the stage.It wasn't long before I started to feel that this was less a play than a talking piece. As scene followed scene involving two actors standing across from each other - because POLAR BEARS is populated by people without furniture - talking at each other, I had a mental picture of Mark Haddon sitting in his writing room reading the pages out loud - and that's how it stayed.
The play has been directed by the omnipresent Jamie Lloyd - already this year we have seen his production of THE LITTLE DOG LAUGHED and there is Sondheim's PASSION coming up later in the year - and again, I found his touch to be speedy but not particularly inspiring. The same was true of his Donmar production of PIAF. So POLAR BEARS whipped along but never seemed to be going anywhere, all in all it made for quite a long 90 minutes.
This is Haddon's first theatre play after gaining praise as a novelist and deals with a man slowly coming apart dealing with his partner's bi-polar disorder. Haddon's two novels have dealt with the subjects of Autism and Dementia - so yeah, the guy's a regular laugh riot. I suspect he has a Collins Home Medical Dictionary propped up next to his Thesaurus.
Sadly I felt it was all a bit borrowed... a bit David Hare, a bit Pinteresque, what I never felt was that I was hearing an original voice. The opening scene sets up the situation of the man - a philosophy teacher - explaining in an obviously manic way to his partner's brother that he had killed her and her body was festering away in the basement? But had he? The next scene had the woman on the phone from Oslo where she was due to leave for...To be honest I really didn't care. The action telescoped forwards and back again but I suspect that was only to provide some contrast to the scene that had gone before. She's up! She's down! She's up again! He's ordinary! He's losing the plot. It gave the actors a wide scale to bounce from one end to the other in a second but some shading would have been welcomed.
I must admit I found Richard Coyle to be a bit irritating as the man whose world of thought is thrown into chaos by his wife's irrational mood swings - it would have helped if his character's look wasn't that of a mid-70s Open University Professor. Jodhi May was interesting as the woman who's career as a children's book illustrator was compromised by her manic depression, although again I longed for her be given the chance to play some more subtle gradients to the role than either UP or DOWN.She was given more-than-able support by her onstage family - Celia Imrie gave a moving performance as the girl's mother, always wary of her daughter's actions and Paul Hilton was fine as her brother - always on the make buying-and-selling but tied to an unhappy family. The cast was rounded off with David Leon who played among other things a chatty irreverent Jesus during one of May's wilder moments. In the play's most bizarre scene, he also played a mortician who dragged a shink-wrapped body onto the stage to describe in detail the stages of a corpse's decomposition. Maybe there was no interval as the Donmar carpet would have been covered in regurgitated ice-cream.
Looking back there was one scene between Coyle and Imrie that hit home due to it's stillness when she showed him two drawings her daughter had done - one perfect and the other a childish scrawl and revealed that the latter was done when she was 'normal', that it was her depression that gave her any talent. Soutra Gilmour's oddly formal panelled set brought to mind the one she designed for THE LITTLE DOG LAUGHED - why she has a thing for cornices only she can tell. Jon Clark's lighting however was constantly intriguing.
I just wish I had enjoyed what it was illuminating more.