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North, North, North (Bristol)

An "enchanting evening" at Bristol's Tobacco Factory Theatre

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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North, North, North tells the epic true tale of an unsuccessful attempt to reach the Arctic by hydrogen balloon in 1897.

We hear early on that the three Swedish explorers die in the attempt, and knowing this makes the following scenes more poignant, as the characters make their futile decisions.

This is hardly a tragic tale though; the production extracts as much humour as possible from the relationships between the crew, some highlights being calisthenics on the ice and a superb scene with a leaf blower.

The cast connect with their audience from the outset, offering coffee and live music as we enter. The show starts as a lecture on the expedition, animated by projections and some breath-taking moments as the characters climb to investigate dripping sounds from above the balloon.

The second and third parts become much more theatrical, as we see the explorers' challenges on the ice. The set, too, is more dynamic in parts two and three, with the projection of photographs from the trip adding a chilling dimension, showing how dwarfed by the environment these men were, and how hopeless their situation.

All parts are played with a captivating lightness of touch. Martin Bonger, playing expedition leader S.A. Andrée, confidently carries the show, having most of the dialogue and action, and Margit Szlavik and Elisabet Topp, transformed into big gruff male explorers by virtue of wonderfully over-the-top false moustaches, complete the seamless ensemble. These worked well and could have benefited from further development.

There's an odd moment when a crew member is unmasked as a female actor, which doesn't help tell the story, but for the most part this was an enchanting evening.

- Shane Morgan