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The Conquest to the South Pole – review

The UMDS stage a performance of economic austerity, expeditionary imaginations and impressive acting in ‘The Conquest to the South Pole’.

In many ways this is a play that reverberates with any contemporary viewer. With austerity measures still plaguing the budget and cuts to public services still hitting hard this play, which followed a group of unemployed men escaping the reality of their joblessness, couldn’t have been more relevant.

Whilst part of the production’s success lay in its relevance, the acting, for me, was the strongest element. Comedy is often hard to get right, especially when it requires nuanced and complex character portrayals to create any kind of empathy for the characters’ situation – something which was definitely important in The Conquest. There is also, with comedy, the danger of over acting, but that boundary was impressively navigated here by each of the actors.

Henry Page managed to portray a facetious, domineering, leader of the pack figure without drifting off into a hateful character and completely alienating us from the drama. Whilst Jake Jones, Stan Benes and Oliver Hamilton all worked well together as the other members of this motley crew, whose trials and tribulations we followed, offering humour and poignancy, in their imaginary conquest to the South Pole.

Natalia Schwartz’s La Braukmann offered a powerful female role within the drama, in contrast with Hannah Jackson’s Rosi, whose part gave us one of the most unsettling and poignant moments of the play, in the scene which depicted her troubled relationship with Rudi, played by Mathew Kerry.

The scene’s quiet and unsettling atmosphere created for awkward viewing and culminated in Frankieboy, played by Ross Carey, mauling Rudi’s leg.

But this was no regular staging of a dog mauling a man’s leg (not that I think its something which is all that regularly staged), no relieved of Frankieboy Rudi hobbled off and turning to face us Frankieboy opened his mouth to show blood dripping through his teeth. I have no idea how they did it but it was a brilliant moment, disgusting granted, but I think for that all the more brilliant.

However, I think the play did, at times, struggle to overcome the challenges presented by the script. I think the evocation of the setting could have been much sharper. Coming to it with little prior in-depth knowledge of the play I have to admit there were moments where I was slightly confused.

I felt, at points, it was hard to distinguish where the line between fiction and reality lay. The script uses a plethora of analogies and humorous ditties and I felt the staging and the action could have been used more effectively to make their meaning a little clearer for the audience.

Nonetheless the play was compelling and humorous and the performance suggested that a lot of hard work had gone into its production. The idea of team work invoked within the narrative also extended beyond the plot line as the performance felt like the product of extensive team work.

I felt that the actors worked well together on stage, they struck up a really good dynamic which was one of the most successful aspects of the performance. I would definitely like to see the same team tackle something else in the future.

 Three and a half stars out of five

Tags: austerity, Conquest to the South Pole, MIFTAs, Student Theatre, unemployment

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