The Conquest of the South Pole @ Liverpool Everyman
Life can be strange sometimes. One minute you’re hanging up the washing, the next you’re trying to reach Antarctica, or at least your husband is. Such is the tale told in The Conquest of the South Pole, playing at Liverpool Everyman until April 8.
If the new Everyman Company, here on their second outing, can survive this surreal trip to the South Pole, they can surely survive anything their new season can throw at them.
Manfred Karge’s play, written in Berlin in the 1980s, transports a group of unemployed friends to the ends of the Earth by way of a soar-away flight of the imagination. After talking down one of their number from hanging himself, depressed by a life punctuated only by “fishing and tea”, they agree to re-enact Roald Amundsen’s 1910 expedition as a bonding experiment that might just give fun, purpose and meaning to their lives.
Slupianek (Dean Nolan) leads the pack, along with Buscher (Liam Tobin), Braukmann (George Caple) and Frankieboy the husky (Zelena Rebeiro), while Lady Braukmann (Laura Dos Santos) intrudes as a rude dose of reality, reminding her man that he needs to find a proper job, rather than trying to navigate around her washing as if it were an impassable ice shelf.
Karge’s play was seen as an alternative to the fashion for kitchen sink realism, yet here, ironically, a sink takes centre stage to double up cleverly as an entry/exit hatch, a kennel, a sort of a soap box and even a shotgun! It’s inventive and light-hearted and helps to leaven the heavier lines that touch on loyalty, loss and reality.
If you like your drama absurdist and your humour obscure, this production works a treat. The Everyman’s terrific ensemble, skilfully directed by Nick Bagnall, deliver some complex dialogue and demanding physical scenes with great style and gusto. Emily Hughes is a quirky, engaging Sieffert and Tobin’s Buscher has a powerful role as the voice of doubt.
In the end, though, the play is held together by Nolan’s commanding Slupianek, the play’s heart and soul and the character who veers dangerously close to a sort of snow-blind madness all along. He is the guy who really means to make it all the way to the Pole and it could be a matter of life and death. Is he obsessed? Paranoid? Or just one of life’s losers trying to come in from the cold?