Polar Night – The New Theatre – Review by David Minogue
Tickets €10 – Dates Sep 15 – 16 / 20 – 23 @ 13:00
Tickets €12/ €10 conc. – Duration 60 mins
Venue: The New Theatre
Polar Night is set in an unspecified part of Northern Europe during a time where there is no daylight, only darkness. The set is a room comprised of a couch and chairs with a free standing wood burner providing the only heat. There is a door to other rooms but on the other side of the room the wall is transparent. The front door is a just a frame where the audience can see someone approach the house and stand outside. At one point a character goes to the front of the stage and faces the audience looking out into the darkness outside. There is a slight wisp of cold air in the theatre which adds to the effect of a cold landscape outside the room. The overall effect is of the audience looking in a window at the people’s lives inside. There is a snow globe quality about it.
The early scenes of the play set in place the three different relationships that are examined within this room. The first is that of Helen (Noelle Brown), an ill woman who is cared for by her partner Ulf (Jack Walsh). In the plays opening scenes Helen lies resting on a couch before Ulf enters the house bringing firewood to the burner. They are depicted like a gently bickering couple. Ulf is revealed to have worked in the mines since he was 15 but due to illness, Helen’s world is primarily within this small room. The daily routine of their lives is interrupted with the arrival of Helen’s daughter Rose (Myrn Devaney) whom she hasn’t seen for ten years. Helen’s reaction to seeing her again is the trigger reaction to the play’s narrative arc. Their relationship is the one that the play most draws on to explore and debate themes of motherhood, commitment, duty and love. The third relationship within the play is that of Rose and Ulf. She regards Ulf with a mixture of simmering hostility and curiosity. Rose knows that only Ulf can tell her the things her mother will not reveal.
Because the majority of the interactions and confrontations are between combinations of just two characters it requires several scenes where each person enters or leaves the set. This results in some scenes being too fragmentary even though the narrative is very linear. Rose brings Helen’s past into her present world. Helen has become a cold, distant woman emotionally but there are flashes, tiny glimpses of hope in her interactions with Rose. As the play progresses Ulf becomes a character on the periphery of the mother and daughter relationship. There is one scene where Ulf tries to affirm his ownership in his relationship with Helen that results in a domino effect of emotions and assertiveness.
The use of images projected onto a multimedia screen on the back of the set creates an unheimlich tone. A face is visible but other images are not as easy to define. These serve as momentary interludes between some scenes. However the intimate setting of the New Theatre venue and the sets pitch black background already help set the atmosphere of the polar world the story is placed in.
The play examines motherhood in relation to concepts of duty and responsibility. It explores what happens to people after a major decision in the lives of their family has been made. The overall tone of the play is bleak but in doing so it is uncompromising in the questions it asks.
Written by Nadine Flynn & Aaron Stapleton
Directed by Aaron Stapleton
Producers: Nadine Flynn & Myrn Devaney
Visuals: Aaron Stapleton
Lighting Design: Ciaran Gallagher
Stage Manager: John Murphy