Writer: Manfred Karge
Director: Nick Bagnall
Reviewer: Katherine Kirwin
In Manfred Karge’s The Conquest of the South Pole we are introduced to the interminably dull lives of four men who exist in a cycle of tea, fishing and not working. Faced with the existential crisis of one of their troop at the opening of the show (Seiffert played in brilliant clowning style by Emily Hughes) they decide to change tack and distract themselves from their own lives with the extraordinary endeavours of others.
Dean Nolan commandeers the stage as Slupianek bullying and poetically persuading his friends to join him in recreating the Norwegian expedition to the South Pole, in which he will obviously play the lead role of Roald Amundsen. There is a wonderful power to Nolan’s performance such that the audience also becomes swept along into Slupianek’s vision, expedition and their goal because we recognise that the world of their imagination is better than the reality outside of it. As the men reach for a seemingly impossible goal against insurmountable odds and treacherous conditions, the parallel desperate search for employment or their desperate lack of it is obvious.
Nick Bagnall’s production embraces the theatrical convention emphasising the power of our collective imaginations, from Brechtian introductions to each scene, to a glitterball emerging for a musical interlude, and cassette players emitting pigeon noises are handled like real birds. The world outside the Liverpool Everyman didn’t feel much brighter than the world these characters inhabit, on the day that Article 50 is triggered, and this audience sought the escapism of theatre to entertain and remind us of our shared humanity. Furthermore, Bagnall has drawn out the game-playing among the characters highlighting humour and yet a darkness; the games we enter into to entertain ourselves and pass the time until our eventual end. These characters are clowns who know the joke is always on them.
The language has an exaggerated style, the characters speech is a mingling of poetry, archaic phrasing and contemporary references. Once again, this concretely creates a world slightly separate from our own but invites us into it knowingly. There is a wonderful moment where Buscher (engagingly played by Liam Tobin) discovers the parallel story of Shackleton’s failed expedition to the south pole and proclaims that this is the expedition they should be recreating because “We do failure better”.
This production is determinably different for which it should be applauded, it is entertaining, emotive and capturing the imagination of its audience with play and storytelling.
Runs until Sat 8 April