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North North North (tour - Peterborough, Key Theatre Studio)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Think polar exploration... what names spring to your mind? Scott or Amundsen most probably. But Andrée? Almost certainly not. The enterprising NIE theatre company's new show aims to correct the record and our understanding.

In 1897 the energetic young Swedish engineer Salomon August Andrée and two colleagues – Nils Strindberg (nephew of the dramatist) and Knut Frænkel - set off to reach the North Pole in a massive custom-made (but untested) balloon. In a sad pre-echo of Scott's South Pole expedition a decade and a half later, it ended in tragedy.

Three actors – Martin Bonger, Margit Szlavik and Elisabet Topp – take us through the story from the bright enthusiasm of its start (this was cutting-edge technology for its time) to the sad conclusion, stranded on the White Island with the crashed balloon abandoned, stores lost to ice-flow vagaries and the fatal onset of winter. Director Alex Byrne has a sure hand with his material.

Bicat and Rigby are the designers. Projections onto drapes of white fabric, a couple of tall ladders and a plethora of props furnish the scene. Accordions, a double-bass and a guitar are taken up by the cast as accompaniment to and commentary on the story as it unfolds. All three actors draw us into the action; we know that the end will not be a happy one but somehow we want history to rewrite itself. Of course, it never does.


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