“You still unemployed?”
A curious blend of prose and poetry, fiction and reality, The Conquest of the South Pole, by German playwright Manfred Karge, is a frantic, vivid portrayal of life on the dole. A poignantly pertinent revival of this contemporary classic, which played to sell-out audiences at the Royal Court in 1988, Stephen Unwin’s production is fraught with the pent up energy and frustration of its characters.
The industrial, subterranean feel of the Arcola’s Studio 1 lends itself well to Karge’s play. Bursting onto the stage, Slupianek and his gang break down the fourth wall, grab the audience’s attention and introduce us to the force of energy which characterises this 90 minutes production. Brilliantly lyrical, Karge’s fast-paced dialogue reflects his characters’ need to constantly be on the go, lest they fall into lethargy and the inevitable depression that follows. Utterly desperate for work, but caught up in a system which denies them it, this hopeless band of brothers devise a way to escape their own harsh realities, and immerse themselves in the honest and worthy endeavour of conquering the south pole (in a washing-strewn attic). Inspired by Amundsen’s triumphant trek through the Antarctic, they find a sanctuary and purpose in their make believe which otherwise eludes them in real life.
Unwin brings together a fantastically strong cast. O-T Fagbenle as the garrulous ring leader, Sam Crane as the downtrodden Braukmann, Mark Field as the headstrong Buscher, and Andrew Gower as the manic-depressive Moose, create a sense of camaraderie and brotherhood onstage which is intensely palpable and amusingly absurd. So young and so hopeless their reality is bleak, unjust and inescapable, and casts a dark shadow over their enthusiastic re-enactments. Finding relief and solace in one another, as a unit the group can face any storm, literal and fictional; but alone they are vulnerable to the crushing realisation that they have failed to meet society’s standards, despite their best efforts.
This production is not only a darkly relevant reflection of our country’s current unemployment crisis, but is also a touching portrayal of friendship. Fusing Karge’s anarchic tone with a stark set and bursts of techno music between scenes, this production is an edgy and grungy portrayal of lives which have slipped between the cracks. I would thoroughly recommend that you make your way to the Arcola to see this darkly comic tale, which is handled expertly by the hugely talented cast.
The Conquest of the South Pole is running until Saturday 26th May – don’t miss it.
Image credited to The Stage