Wojtek The Bear

THEATRE
Wojtek The Bear
3 stars ***
Hill Street Theatre (Venue 41)

IF ONE OF THE key roles of Fringe theatre is to retell great stories that have almost been lost to history, then this new play by Raymond Raszkowski Ross has found a magnificent subject. Wojtek was a Syrian brown bear bought in Iran by Poiish servicemen fighting on the allied side in the Second World War. He became a kind of regimental talisman, travelling with the men up through Italy, where he played a legendary role in the battle of Monte Cassino, and finally ending up in Scotland, and – to the grief of his devoted master, Piotr – in Edinburgh Zoo.

There’s some kind of metaphor in action, in Ross’s intensely poetic and anthropomorphic account of Wojtek’s story, in which John McColl plays Piotr, and James Sutherland the bear; about the agony of those exiled by war, perhaps about Poland itself, certainly about the relationship between humankind and animals. The play is heavily overwritten, and finally lays on the pathos with such a heavy trowel, over at least four endings, that half the audiences sobs aloud, and the other half loses all patience. The show makes fine use of music, though, provided live by violinist Sue Muir; and there’s a terrific tale there to be told, given a little less gushing emotion, and a little more reflection, of the kind that shapes and refines.

Joyce McMillan
Until 27 August
p. 336

ENDS ENDS

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