JOYCE MCMILLAN on POLARIS in the Manipulate Festival at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, for The Scotsman 3.2.12
4 stars ****
AS THE MANIPULATE FESTIVAL of visual theatre powers on towards its closing weekend, the latest visitors are the Czech company Wariot Ideal, with their charming and powerful 2009 show Polaris. Set in the great age of exploration, when chaps in dinner jackets travelled intrepidly into the planet’s wildest places, Polaris is a two-man show which uses light, movement, and a few simple props – a sledge, a flagpole, a rope – to conjure up the fate of two polar explorers stranded somewhere in the icy wastes, and also of the creatures that surround them, from wolves, seabirds and penguins to sea-lions, bears, and something more huge and terrifying than any of those, like the approaching thunder of future nuclear submarines.
In a richly enjoyable 55 minutes, creator/performer Vojta Svejda and fellow-actor Jan Benes perhaps spend slightly too much time evoking the wildlife, not enough exploring the pressures and culture that drove men to such extremes; the whole show seems to snap into focus during their brief and brilliant dream of a celebratory return to civilisation, complete with trains and steamships. What they have created, though, is a beautiful and powerfully evocative piece of physical theatre, which succeeds, almost without words, in conjuring up not only a moment in history, but also a sense of enduring tragedy, involving the relationship between a beautiful blue planet, and a species that for too long saw it as something not to cherish, but to conquer and defeat.