Hill St Theatre
2 - 26 August
The minimalism of this war story is touching, and the principals' performances varied and powerful. Wojtek, as Poles (apparently) will well know, is the soldier-bear who joined the Polish fighters, and in particular Piotr, his “mama”, in their fight for freedom against first Nazis then Soviets. James Sutherland as Wojtek is the undoubted star; with no fur, no claws, indeed nothing except an ursine gait and exuberance he portrays to us the experiences of his bearish life.
The excitement, camaraderie and hardship of war, and the largely unsung plight of the dispossessed soldiery afterwards (the jingoistic xenophobia of the host Scots is particularly hard to brook) are all taken in the stride of these two men (or, man and a bear), delivered with a tenderness and feeling which never spills over into sentimentality.
Such an honest example of unassisted acting, propped only by a violin soundscape by Sue Muir, affords the show a direct, empathetic connection with its audiences that takes time to develop but strikes deep. After an hour and a half it is perfectly natural that a man should play a bear, and that a bear and a man should share a unique and powerful friendship. The bittersweet conclusion is ennobling and you leave feeling a better, more understanding person.