If the devil makes work for idle hands he has a field day with the cast of The Conquest of the South Pole. When four unemployed men try to take their minds off the grim reality of their real-life situations they find solace in recreating Amundsen’s trek to Antarctica. Cue metaphors.
While leader of the pack Slupianek – another breathless and amusing turn from Dean Nolan – is the prime mover here the rest of group willingly go along with the plan, commandeering an attic full of drying washing to double as the freezing tundra and going on raids of shops to stock up on provisions.
The depressed Seiffert joins in to take his mind of his abortive suicide attempt, while Braukmann seeks a job, an escape from long days in a fraught marriage. He finds himself starts dreaming of coordinates as his barren wife longs for a ‘lottery baby’.
Meanwhile Slupianek’s sidekick Buscher is initially supportive but starts to wonder whether they shouldn’t ape Shackleton’s expedition instead as they’re ‘better at failure… every trip to Poundland is a failure’’.
Alongside Keedy Sutton’s tart-with-heart Rosi, Patrick Brennan’s repellent Rudi arrives later to remind them men of their emasculation. His obnoxious attitude towards them could walk straight out of any modern Brexit diatribe, Brennan’s face-twisting invective shouted straight at the surrounding audience.
With fantasy and reality blurring and detouring into song the play is a clash of Potter, Bleasdale and Mighty Boosh. Against this theatricality some Brechtian grace notes – a bare set surrounded by the audience and some nice asides from Nolan – leaven the production but you wonder if the starkness of it works against the cast in conveying the action, dialogue and the journeys of their characters.
Manfred Karge’s 1986 script was translated into English in 1988 and though 30 years have passed little seems to have changed. The themes of men, jobless and shiftless, are relevant today and while the play might not seem as daring now there’s something pleasingly odd in the translation by Tinch Minter and Anthony Vivis.
There’s offbeat meter, alliteration, palindromic constructions, made-up slang and sort-of rhymes; a dash of Burgess in the verbiage. It’s to be admired if not always followed and you start to wonder if that’s the point.
It’s never really clear what it all amounts to, even after we see the group achieve their fleeting triumph in the melodrama of the attic and its dangerous crevasses. The Everyman Rep’s second show manages to avoid them but somehow it fails to completely gel, the narrative and its message remaining elusive in the whiteout.
The Conquest of the South Pole
Until 8 April
Pictures by Gary Calton