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A CurtainUp London London Review
The Conquest of the South Pole


Wherever I come from, itís where you come from too. You and all your friends.† — The Conquest of the South Pole
The Conquest of the South Pole
Cast of The Conquest of the South Pole
(Photo: Simon Annand)
A man grabs onto the scaffolding supporting a balcony of seats overlooking the three-sided Arcola Theatre, then swings onto the stage through the gap by my feet. Iím straight into the action as actors emerge from dark corners, hidden holes and from behind a curtain rigged to look like weíre in for a hanging. They greet each other, they greet us, then with a mix of prose and poetry weíre off on a fantastical journey to the South Pole Ė all set within an attic room.

Originally written by East German playmaker Manfred Karge in the 1980s, it doesnít take much imagination to reset the four friends into London 2012 Ė the underclass have a particular timelessness when it comes to theatre. Unemployed, disillusioned and drifting, Braukmann, Slupianek, Buscher and Seiffert hide away from the world, recreating Amundsenís polar conquest with white laundered bed-sheets and pants as their snowy backdrop. The energetic language and complex group dynamic is played with brash theatricality, often falling into surreality. But Braukmannís wife is on hand to remind the boys that they have worldly responsibilities, and before long their differences force the group to abandon their expedition.

Director Stephen Unwin (of The Rose Theatre, Kingston) uses his experience with classical staging to smash several walls, fourth and all, with this production that he first worked on in 1988. The original helped launch the careers of Ewen Bremner and Alan Cumming; and with this new generation, it looks set to send some very strong actors into the world. Some have already achieved success with TV appearances (such as Being Humanís Andrew Gower as Seiffert who enthuses his now characteristic nervous energy into an intriguing troubled character).

This show will certainly not be a treat for everyone. Itís confrontational, odd, darkly comic and frequently loud. But fans of work that feels new, exciting and raw will sit through a very happy 90 minutes of material that feels as fresh as when it was first performed. Unwin describes it as a parable of hope and despair, dreams and reality. In neatly captures the feeling that in everyday life you can be making your own impossible journey in a blinding landscape. The climax of the play is wonderful. Never have I seen six people count to (almost) 180 and receive such rapturous applause. And with that little teaser, I leave you to your own voyage into the unknown. . . or if you choose to go and see the play for yourself: DalstonÖ



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† †
The Conquest of the South Pole
Written by Manfred Karge Translated by Tinch Minter and Anthony Vivis
Directed by Stephen Unwin

Starring: Chris Ashby, Sam Crane, Emma Cunniffe, O-T Fagbenle, Mark Field, Andrew Gower, Lauren Johns, Daniel Weyman
Design: Hayden Griffin
Composer: Corin Buckeridge
Lighting: Sherry Coenen
Running time: One hour 30 minutes with no interval
Box Office: 020 7503 1646
Booking to 26th May 2012
Reviewed by Tim Macavoy†based on 30th April† 2012 performance at The Arcola Theatre, London E8 3DL (Rail/Tube: Dalston Junction)†

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©Copyright 2012, Elyse Sommer.
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