The Bush Theatre, London
Tanya Ronder’s F*ck the Polar Bears asks an impossible question. How do you, in the words of her harried, trendy wife, Serena `organise multilateral, worldwide, self-denial?’
Serena is looking forward to the new home Gordon, her executive husband (in an un-named energy firm) is going to be buying in the select Thameside area of Hampton thanks to a dodgy energy deal with a Minister of State. But Gordon’s conscience is preying on him, to the extent that he’s beginning to see malevolent polar bears everywhere bent on sabotaging his loan plan, even in the shape of his daughter’s stuffed toy polar bear, Phoebe.
Ronder’s vital if uneven new play embeds the climate change/fracking controversy deep into the heart of the nuclear family, bringing it home, literally, into the sitting room, kitchen, bathroom and bedroom. How do individual actions – the now daily recycling decisions of toxic separations of plastic and cardboard – impact into the larger scheme of things?
Not that we really get to her subject’s core until near the end, after a climactic melt-down from Gordon and an explosive exposure from their recycling/environmental obsessed Icelandic au pair, Blunhilde.
Ronder, admired for her adaptations (Dara, Vernon God Little to name a couple) also wrote Table, a beautifully poised piece about generations of family based around the idea of the secrets held silently or symbolised by a family table. Non-linear, Polar Bears too mixes genres, if less comfortably, sometimes touching the surreal, sometimes melodramatic.
Initially, Serena and Gordon seem like any other consumerist, yuppie couple, she into every trendy health fad going, he adroitly glib. But with a tone that skates on thin comic ice, Polar Bears unravels into terror, followed by revelation, and for Serena and Gordon, ultimately cathartic showdown. Will he opt out of the deal sacrificing upwardly mobile life-style for the sake of their beloved daughter and a safe nest egg to protect her from the horrors ahead?
Another apocalyptic vision in its conclusion (there are many these days), Caroline Byrne’s lively, in-the-round production presents certain auditory problems but draws a humdinger of a performance from Andrew Whipp’s flailing Gordon. Nice cameo, too, from Phoebe.
F*ck the Polar Bears runs at the Bush Theatre to Oct 24, 2015
Review first published in Reviewsgate Sept 2015