Latest News

Wojtek - Reviews from the Fringe


Theatre Objektiv were the joint runners up of the 2012 Scottish Arts Club-Edinburgh Guide Scottish Theatre Fringe Award for their production of Wojtek the Bear.
Announcing the award, Catherine Robins of the Scottish Arts Club said "Congratulations to the whole company on a really impressive piece of theatre."

In his FOUR STAR REVIEW of Wojtek the Bear in The Times (Aug 7th) Robert Dawson Scott wrote:
The bare bones of the story are well known.. But Scottish writer Raymond Raszkowski Ross and Theatre Objektiv are attempting something far more ambitious than simply telling the tale.
With just two actors and an on-stage violinist providing a discreet mood-scape, their production asks how a man and a bear might enter into a life-long relationship and, intriguingly, what the bear thought about it all.
There are allusions to everything from the Katyn massacre to the way that the Polish armed forces in Scotland went from "valiant allies" at the end of the war to "outstaying their welcome" within a few months.
James Sutherland gives a mightly performance as Wojtek.. He goes from a baby cub, sucking on the thumb of his protector, Piotr (John McColl), to something like an overgrown child, big, brash and messy, but also loveable and loyal.
Its mixture of the poetic, the physical, the allegorical and the psychological asks a lot of the audience. But I thought it more than repaid the attention and there will be nothing else quite like it.

FIVE STAR REVIEW of Wojtek the Bear in The British Theatre Guide:
Theatre Objektiv is well known for their intensity of feeling with its subject matter. Taking a departure from last year’s bleak but hopeful piece on the Holocaust, this year Raymond Ross has penned a play around the life of Wotjek, a [Syrian] brown bear tamed by the Polish Army and eventually gifted to Edinburgh Zoo.
We are led through the past of Wotjek in the form of a dream where his dying former master, Piotr, played by John McColl is searching through the wastelands of his memory, seeking forgiveness from the bear that thought him 'Mama'.
The piece is revelatory, beginning in darkness with the both visual and physical dualities of McColl's Piotr and James Sutherland's Wotjek.
Sutherland, despite his simple and unobtrusive brown clothing, imbues his embodiment of the bear and the more illusory phantom aspects with a confidence and contained power.
From his roaring baritone voice, boundless energy to the playfighting and hooting of a bear cub, he utterly dispels the conceit of a man portraying an animal.
Comparatively, McColl's work is more subtle, the meek and practical yet idealistic Lance Corporal, trying to cling to the bear who is the only link he has to home.
In addition, the entire piece is scored live by the fine violin work of Sue Muir, whose contribution enhances the scenes and adds an element of bleak ethereality, rounding off the production perfectly.

FIVE STAR REVIEW in The Skinny (August 10th) by Stephanie Green:
A tour de force, based on the true story of the friendship between the Polish Soldier Bear, and his 'mama' Piotr, a Lance Corporal during WWII.
Carrying shells at the battle of Monte Cassino, the bear became a symbol of Freedom to the Free Polish ending his days in Edinburgh Zoo in 1963.
This heart-rending tale, written by Raymond Raszkowski Ross, is superbly performed.
The set is a drum-like disc over which the bear first appears snuffling the air.
James Sutherland wears no mask or costume and yet from the first minute, we are convinced he is a bear.
His expressive face, wavering fingers like talons, a lumbering walk and grunts when he coories up to his 'mama' are all he needs to convince us.
He loves to dance to the Scottish fiddle, expertly played by by Sue Muir, who also provides an atmospheric soundtrack.
John McColl contrasts well as Piotr with his soldier's upright bearing.
The play is a duet of voices as they reminisce about the camaraderie of a soldier's life, followed by the horrors of WWII, and post-war hero's welcome turning sour with 'Go Home Polack' taunts.
A rollercoaster of emotions, this play is bound to move.

In a STUNNING REVIEW in The Scottish Catholic Observer (Aug 10) Zoe Keown wrote:
In a perfect ensemble of poetic yet astute writing, haunting music and exceptional performances by James Sutherland, John McColl and Sue Muir, Theatre Objektiv's newest production of Wojtek the Bear is nothing short of a beautiful education in a shared Polish and British history and the important values in life. Not only does Wojtek's story fill in important gaps in history which have skipped generations, it shows how devout faith, friendship and forgiveness can light a candle of hope during the darkest of days. This production shines all the more because it is based on a true story. Impossible to forget and impossible not to fall in love with, Wojtek's tale will stay with you long after the Festival has finished.

FOUR STAR REVIEW of Wojtek the Bear in (12 August 2012) by Kieran Corcoran:
The minimalism of this war story is touching, and the principals' performances varied and powerful.
Wojtek, as Poles (apparently) will well known, 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.

FOUR STAR REVIEW in Three Weeks by Dave Fargnoli:
The story of a bear adopted by the Polish army, marched across the battlefields of wartime Europe, and finally homed in Edinburgh Zoo may sound unbelievable, but Theatre Objektiv transform this true tale into a parable of innocence and cruelty.
A sophisticated performance unafraid to grapple with complex themes, it’s buoyed by live music which skillfully evokes the journey from Siberian tundra to Scottish drizzle, and by the touching, often comic interplay between the two leads.
James Sutherland is remarkable as the titular animal, shifting between playful and petulant like an overactive three year old.
A hulking physical presence, he anchors the play through its fragmented narrative and hairpin emotional shifts.
Ambitious and uncomfortable, Wojtek grips like a bear hug.

FOUR STAR REVIEW of Wojtek the Bear in Edinburgh Spotlight by Debbie Cannon:
Anyone expecting a kind of ‘incredible journey’ story for bears will not find it here.
This version of Wojtek’s life is more poetic and abstract than realistic, incorporating storytelling and physical theatre.
Wojtek is a walking, talking anthropomorphized bear, and this is as much the tale of Piotr, the Polish corporal who becomes Wojtek’s surrogate ‘mama’ and the other main character in the play.
Through Piotr and Wojtek, and the backdrop of the Polish experience in World War II, the play probes the ideas about loss, freedom, betrayal, and isolation from one’s people, in which it seems primarily interested, on both a personal and political level.
There is great beauty, emotion and vigour in this piece, running through all the elements of its production, from script and performances to music – and the set on which it’s played out. An illuminated disk, tilted towards the audience, provides a stage which is both visually striking and a versatile space for the two performers to move around and on, becoming at one moment a forest clearing, at another a boat over the side of which a seasick Piotr lurches.
A violinist (Sue Muir) is positioned to the side of this set, but is a clearly visible part of it. Her live music and ‘soundscape’ add their own character and vitality to the play.
The performances by the two actors are the lifeblood of the piece, full of truthfulness and energy.
James Sutherland performs Wojtek without make-up, in simple T-shirt and trousers, and only occasionally takes on full animal physicality, but his stance and movement still feel utterly, convincingly bear-like, and the raw emotion in his facial expressions is breath-taking.
John McColl brings a really touching sense of restlessness and regret to the role of Piotr, and the joy he derives from his relationship with the bear is genuinely heartwarming.
The script by Raymond Ross is fascinating – highly imaginative, poetic and packed with vivid imagery. It follows a rough chronological structure, but shifts back and forward between remembered phases in Wojtek and Piotr’s lives, and at times the feeling of not knowing exactly where you are in the story is a little unsettling, especially towards the end.
This is a striking production, with a wonderful script and fine performances, which entertains and stimulates in equal measure. It’s an experience which will remain in your mind for many days.

'Bold and spiritual' says The Stage of Wojtek the Bear:
Theatre Objektiv’s haunting imagining of Wojtek the Bear is a bold piece of soul-searching.
Corinne Harris’ production is occasionally blushingly earnest, but it’s also moving.
In Raymond Raszkowski Ross’ poetic play Wojtek becomes a living symbol of the Second World War Polish soldiers – his bravery and betrayals signify theirs.
Based on the true story of a Syrian brown bear adopted by the Polish army in 1942, Ross flatters the audience’s intelligence and begins smack bang in the middle of this tale. Two lost souls Wotjek and Piotr Prendys, the lance corporal who adopted him, meet in a supernatural plain in search of understanding and forgiveness.
Ross’ play centres around this relationship and the success of this simple production is down to the chemistry between its two actors.
As the bear James Sutherland wears no animal trappings other than a brown t-shirt and trousers. He evokes this animal lightly but believably.
John McColl as Prendys has a harder time with some purple dialogue but strongly conveys a parent’s love for Sutherland’s mischievous but wise bear.
Creating both the soundscape and the aural landscape Sue Muir’s pure violin nurtures and expands this intimate story, placing the whole thing in realms of the spiritual.

Reviews Gate online highlights Wojtek:
But the most memorable of my sampling was an associated event, from Scotland’s Theatre Objectiv, who are presenting Wojtek the Bear by Raymond Raszkowski Ross, a beautifully written piece – spare, taut, emotionally powerful through its restraint – in what must be a definitive production by Corinne Harris.
The relationship between man and bear has playful, even awkward moments (Wojtek’s not above raiding army stores for food). But it stands too for the intimate bond of mutual, if different affection, that can develop between anyone who needs care and anyone who cares.
Both lighting and Sue Muir’s violin score help establish and differentiate moods in this Fringe jewel.

Excellent review article in The List Festival Edition Aug 2nd about Wojtek the Bear:
Laura Ennor discovers how the real-life tale of a Persian bear who fought in World War II and lived out his days in Edinburgh Zoo has become an international phenomenon:
For all that the theatre is a showcase for the power of the imagination, sometimes real life gifts you a story that’s better than anything anyone could make up.
The life of Wojtek the soldier bear is one such case – and that’s what makes it all the more surprising that, after a documentary, books, countless websites and even a special brew from the Beartown Beer Company have honoured him, Edinburgh’s Theatre Objektiv are only now staging his story for the first time.
Anyone who visited Edinburgh Zoo in the 1950s or early 60s, or grew up in a Polish community will almost certainly know Wojtek already.
For those that don’t: in Persia in 1942, a boy sold an orphaned bear cub to some soldiers from the Second Polish Corps. One, Piotr Prendys, took particular care of him, earning him the nickname ‘Mama Bear’ among his comrades.
Wojtek became a fully signed up member of the Polish army, travelling around Europe with his unit, carrying shells at the Battle of Monte Cassino and becoming a mascot for soldiers who had little else left to love.
When the war ended the unit was sent to a re-settlement camp in Berwickshire, and from there, when his ‘mother’ had to move to London to find work, Wojtek was taken to Edinburgh Zoo to live out his days. There, the young son of a Polish immigrant attended the school next door to the Zoo and knew about the bear.
Skip forward around 50 years and Raymond Raszkowski Ross is a writer with his own theatre company, who has written a play about the relationship between the bear and Prendys which, after a short Edinburgh run in June, is already garnering international attention.
‘What’s become really fascinating,’ he says, ‘is that we opened a Facebook page for the show and we linked to this Wojtek site in Krakow, and now we get people from all over the world … people are posting up pictures of Wojtek from when their dad took them to the Zoo in the 50s. It’s kind of taking off. He was much more important and interesting than the pandas, you know?’
While harsh economic necessity dictated that in real life Wojtek and Piotr Prendys never met again, the play imagines they do, and together they look back over this remarkable story, seeking forgiveness for the loneliness of their later years.
From the beginning Ross know that there would be no bear costume, no mask or claws: instead actors James Sutherland and John McColl appear plainly dressed on a simple set, with only their words and actions – and the plaintive fiddle sounds of musician Sue Muir – to evoke a moving journey across countries and decades.
Certainly a beer drinking, ceilidh-dancing bear who likes to wrestle his soldier comrades has comic potential, but there’s more depth to the story than that. Through his life and that of Prendys, Theatre Objektiv tells the story of Poland’s World War II and the Free Polish Forces afterwards.
‘He was a very comic character,’ says Ross, ‘but there was something uncanny about him. I think because in the Northern Hemisphere we never had apes … there’s a lot of mythology around the bear because it’s the animal that most closely resembles the human in form … The bear was seen as somewhere between man and god, and that comes into effect in the play – Wojtek’s not just this funny cuddly wee thing, he’s closer to nature than man can be, and he doesn’t understand why they make war, for example, although he takes part in it.’ It’s this ultimate outsider perspective – that of an animal – that should for an affecting take on human history, intertwined with a story of rare closeness between one man and one beast.