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Wojtek the Bear
Published on Tuesday, 14 August 2012
3

3 stars

Hill Street Theatre (venue website)
Theatre
2-13, 15-26 Aug, 4:30pm-5:45pm
Reviewed by Alice de Cent

 Recommended for age 12+ only.

Based on the true story of Wojtek, a Syrian brown bear who was adopted as a cub by a unit of Polish soldiers – eventually ending his days at Edinburgh Zoo – Wojtek the Bear examines the friendship between Wojtek and his adoptive mother and fellow soldier, Piotr.

Raymond Raszkowski Ross’ script opts for a darker, more emotional take on the tale than popular history (and Wojtek’s frequent appearances on Blue Peter) can account for. The show follows the adventures of the pair from their first meeting, through Wojtek’s heroic exploits at the Battle of Monte Cassino, and into their life in Scotland before Piotr and Wojtek finally part. The bear’s overarching fear of zoos, and the tragedy of his inevitable confinement, is a major focus of the show, overshadowing the exploits Wojtek is primarily famous for.

James Sutherland brings a great deal of energy to the character of Wojtek, playing the bear with only a brown pair of trousers and t shirt for costume. The physical scenes, including the wrestling Wojtek was so famous for, are admirably energized. But director Corrine Harris may wish to develop these further, both to iron out the more chaotic sequences and further characterize Wojtek as a bear through his stance and movement.

Sue Muir provides music in the form of live violin accompaniment. Muir’s playing is exemplary, but the soundscape she creates isn’t really used to further the plot or develop scenes, limiting it to underscore and leaving it feeling at little intrusive at times.

Wojtek the Bear is a thoughtful and heartfelt piece based upon a well-known story. In aiming for poetry and philosophy it sets its sights a little too high, but there are some nice comic moments and energetic acting from Sutherland and John McColl.

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