Production photography by Waygood Photography.
Religion and beliefs. Some of the most magnificent buildings are monuments of worship and some of the most epic wars have been over differing belief systems.
Every culture has or had their mythology/religion, a belief system that is integral to the explanation of the world and their own existence in it.
In RUMOURS OF POLAR BEARS, presented by Eclectic Productions at the Black Box Theatre, Ancient Roman, Greek, Christian, Hindu and Inuit deities and beings are given representation in this post apocalyptic dystopian work written specifically for young people by American playwright Jonathan Dorf.
It’s not necessary to know about these various deities and beings to appreciate the production but it does add an extra level and nuance of understanding of the intentions and themes behind the work.
The Black Box Theatre at the Community Arts Centre in Newcastle West has been transformed into something that is a cross between someone’s country shed and Mad Max. Atmospheric smoke and lighting creates a haze through which we peer at an old car, 44-gallon drums containing fake fire and graffiti covered corrugated iron walls. It’s a good look.
Set in America, there have been oil and water wars in the recent past, destroying the natural environment and civilization and a rag tag bunch of surviving children, now teenagers, eke out a substandard existence with canned produce as currency. They have a Friday night party pool ritual whereby a small amount of precious water is poured into an old tyre and they dance.
It’s suitably dystopian and establishes the human need to party and hold some type of ceremony. Or ritual.
The biblical Matthew, Luke, John and Peter all left or died and the predominantly female group, led by Deme (Samantha Lambert) have settled into their life. However, Deme is fixated on the notion of polar bears and going north to find them so when a sickness arrives Deme convinces her brother Romulus (Conagh Punch) to roundup the crew that includes Adam and Eve to commence their epic journey.
Along the way they lose some and acquire or meet others. In a dying paradise they encounter Cassie (Jasmine Travers) who has visions and sees somewhere else that’s green so she joins them and forms an attachment with Romulus while the foundling Scrubs (Parisse Lattimore) buzzes about them all with irrepressible survival determination.
Adam and Eve (Jack Twelvetree and Genevieve Lawson) and others drop off after encountering a place with a party spa and the whole journey becomes an extended metaphor for the existential nature of human existence complete with pointed references to a copy of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot that is missing the last three pages and the classic phrase, “Nothing to be done” from that play.
Simple things acquire enormous significance – a watch, a picture of The World’s Greatest Ball of Yarn, a colouring in book, memories of parents and the beauty of a world lost. This is best encapsulated in the scene when they encounter Noah (Alastair Anderberg).
The end of life as he knew it came for Noah when he was 7 years old and playing Mozart for his parents on his piano. The holocaust came and the wall caved in, killing his parents and beloved music teacher and destroying Middle C on the piano.
He became the pseudo guardian of a group of school children who had been surviving on the stale pretzels from a vending machine and for a while there were apples and deer until the trees died and the deer disappeared. Another Paradise Lost.
Now, he and the children perform The Pageant, whereby all the children play animal characters and the world before the Fire in the Sky and marauding motorcycle gangs.
By the time we encounter a female PAN (Beth Traynor) and the duplicitous Kali (Joanna Gorton) it is very clear that this play is deliberately and systematically trawling through cultures, myths, legends to illustrate the theme. We are fatally flawed in being paradoxically doomed to fight and fear others, yet still be mortally united.
But, as the Beckett references highlight, there is still hope and love and joy in living and a co-dependent need for human company, warmth and rules or rituals to give shape to our lives.
Directors Chloe McLean and Joel Mews have extracted some strong performances from their ensemble. Samantha Lambert and Conagh Punch as Deme and Romulus both inhabit the space confidently and keep the pace moving and Joanna Gorton as the Lara Croft style anti-hero Kali oozed action panache.
The most delightful acting surprises though were two young members, Parisse Lattimore as Scrubs and Jack Andrew in the double roles of Echo and Ugalik. These two brought exuberance to their scenes and interaction with the rest of the ensemble.
The technical and design team, presumably led by the experienced and incredibly reliable Lyndon Buckley created a highly functional and detailed multi purpose space and atmosphere that allowed for a seamless epic journey from post apocalyptic New San Francisco to Canada. Look for the references in the graffiti on the corrugated iron.
RUMOURS OF POLAR BEARS is a very suitable script for Eclectic Productions. This company emerged out a desire by several young adult graduates of youth theatre groups to continue to work together and create theatre and their niche is theatre pertinent to their age group and they are doing that with skill, flair and integrity
The final performances of RUMOURS OF POLAR BEARS are today at 2 pm and 7 pm.