The Theatreguide.London Review
halfway through Mark Haddon's drama a character suffering from bipolar
disorder tells a lovely fable - actually, the text of a
children's book she's written - about a beautiful maiden and a monster,
that is a touching evocation of the experience of two very different
personalities inhabiting the same body.
But it belongs in a children's book, or a psychology textbook, not a play. It tells us everything and shows us nothing.
Polar Bears is
Haddon's first stage play - he's a novelist best known for The Curious
Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time, told from the perspective of an
autistic child - and much of the rest of the play either tells without
showing, or shows without guiding us to understand what we're seeing.
a result, it is far more successful in occasional parts than as a
swinging from suicidal lows to uncontrollable highs. Her mother cares
for her, while using that caring as an excuse not to have a life of her
own. Her husband loves unconditionally and lives on the hope that that
will be enough. Her brother neither understands nor sympathises, but
his coldness actually comes across as the healthiest response.
string of short
scenes that move back and forth in time, and in and out of various
characters' fantasies (so that we are sometimes not sure where or when
we are, or in whose head we are), give us a collection of impressions
of what it is like to be manic-depressive and, perhaps more tellingly,
what the cost is to those around the bipolar person.
of the images
are strong, as when Kay looks up an old boyfriend who somehow turns
into Jesus, or when the titular imaginary bears are either threatening
or exciting depending on where she is in her cycle.
they remain a
collection of impressions, illustrated excerpts from a textbook rather
than a coherent picture, much less a story.
May keeps Kay
real and sympathetic through the jumble of ages and moods in which we
see her, and Paul Hilton makes the brother a believably complex and
even self-contradictory character, while Richard Coyle as the husband
and Celia Imrie as the mother work admirably but cannot make their
characters more dimensional and other-than-textbook figures than the
author has written.
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Polar Bears - Donmar 2010