Wojtek the Bear

Aug 15 2015 | By More

✭✭✭✭✩   Love and regret

Scottish Storytelling Centre (Venue 30a): Wed 5 – Sun 23 Aug 2015

Theatre Objektiv brings alive a story of love and hope born from the abject trauma of war. While heart-warming, there’s also something unnerving in their telling of the tale.

Wojtek was a Syrian brown bear cub found in Iran and adopted by soldiers of the Polish Army. Lance Corporal Piotr Prendys became his adopted mother and Wojtek became a soldier of sorts, moving ammunition for the soldiers and creating chaos in the camp.

James Sutherland. Photo: Theatre Objektiv

James Sutherland. Photo: Theatre Objektiv

This production explores the bond between Wojtek and Piotr – the motivations behind the adoption and the bond between man and animal.

Conceived by Raymond Raszkowski Ross, the play is built around the concept of putting the bear on stage and giving him a voice. First performed in the Scottish Storytelling Centre in 2012, the production has toured Poland, England and Scotland and now returns to the Centre.

James Sutherland has played the bear since that first performance and it’s a performance he’s perfected. From his first sniffing emergence from under the stage, he’s very much the playful bear. He switches between Wojtek’s childlike glee and joy to confusion and anger. He’s expressive and ultimately retains his bear-like demeanour throughout.

And yet, there’s something unnerving about the over-anthropomorphisation of Wojtek in this production. It’s all so much of a human reflection imposed upon the bear that it grates slightly. These feelings are not the bear himself, as the playwright intended, but merely a selfish human projection of guilt from the imagined mind of Piotr.

a deep-seated need

This play is really all about the soldier. Gavin Paul plays Piotr, giving him a clear love and understanding of the animal. It is obvious that the bond was formed through a deep-seated need for a connection amid the hardships of war. Paul also displays another side to the character – a deep portrayal of guilt and regret that is almost overwhelming.

This feeling is exacerbated by the sad and haunting violin music from Sue Muir. There’s a great deal of soul searching in the show – a juxtaposition between love and companionship and the lonely and forgotten.

As the piece ends, there’s an inherent lingering sadness that perhaps Wojtek would have been better left alone in the wilderness where he belonged. His journey as a Polish soldier fulfilled a selfish need within Piotr and his comrades looking for a connection. While creating a cherished bond, they also subjected the bear to a life not meant. It is here that the sadness lies.

Very moving and evocative stuff from the team at Theatre Objektiv.

Running time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Scottish Storytelling Centre (Venue 30a) 43-45 High Street, Edinburgh EH1 1SR
Friday 9 – Monday 31 August 2015
Daily (not Wednesdays), 7pm.
Book tickets on the EdFringe website: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/wojtek-the-bear
Scottish Storytelling Centre website: http://www.tracscotland.org/scottish-storytelling-centre



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