The Conquest of the South Pole review at Everyman Theatre, Liverpool – ‘a vivid revival’
Manfred Karge’s chilling, Brechtian exploration of the demoralising effects of long term unemployment first appeared at Edinburgh’s Traverse Theatre in 1988. But the play never once shows its age in Nick Bagnall’s vivid new production with the Everyman rep company.
After Slupianek, Braukmann and Buscher discover their friend Seiffert in an act of desperation, Slupianek sets about re-enacting Amundsen’s expedition to the Pole to lift them from their stultifying ennui. They do this in the attic, with the drying laundry providing a glacial backdrop.
Dean Nolan gives a terrifyingly focused performance as Slupianek. His delivery of the often surreal dialogue is both poetic and arresting. There are also fine characterisations from George Caple and Liam Tobin as Braukmann and Buscher, both of whom deliver tremendous soliloquies. Emily Hughes, making her professional debut this season, is mesmerising as Seiffert, and the almost wordless figure of Frankieboy, sinuously drawn by Zelina Rebeiro, haunts them throughout.
Configured in the round, the production uses the full height of the space. The minimalist design is inspired, using props to transport the imagination. This allows the audience to focus on the poetry of the dialogue and the spirals of emotion experienced by the travellers.
Slupianek descends into an abyss of despair as Buscher insists on recreating the failure of Ernest Shackleton – because failure is what they’re good at – while rabid capitalist Rudi delivers a final, insulting body blow.
In its closing moments, The Conquest of the South Pole delivers a cry of hope – or maybe helplessness – that makes for a transcendent ending.