Wojtek the Bear (4 stars)

This article is from 2015

Wojtek the Bear

A compelling tale of love and loss

Coaxed of out his hiding place by Sue Muir's haunting violin melody, a man in a simple brown t-shirt crawls cautiously onto the stage, grunting under the strain of his weight. He sniffs the air curiously, slides forward and locks eyes with the audience, establishing a connection between man and beast that forms the backbone of Theatre Objektiv's compelling new show Wojtek the Bear.

The play tells the story of the eponymous animal, whose small role in the Allied war effort brought him worldwide adoration. Rescued by a Polish soldier from his fate as an entertainment attraction, the bear won the hearts of the men of the 22nd Artillery Supply Company and was officially drafted into the forces as a private, helping to move ammunition during the Battle of Monte Cassino.

At heart, this is a play about a soldier. Emotionally and geographically uprooted, Piotr finds solace in the shape of bear, who becomes his closest companion and confidant – a blank slate onto which he projects humanity as a means of support. James Sutherland is uncanny as Wojtek, skilfully capturing the various aspects of the bear's anthropomorphism, shifting from childlike glee to uncanny sagacity with ease.

A heartbreaking scene in the second act encapsulates the close bond between the pair: crumbling to the floor, Wojtek lets out an atavistic howl when separated from his 'mama', who hunches disconsolately across the stage. Emotional and profound, Wojtek the Bear is a complex and rewarding production that explores the intricacies of an unbreakable bond between species.

Scottish Storytelling Centre, 226 0000, 6-31 Aug (not 12, 19, 26), 7pm, £10 (£8).

Wojtek the Bear

  • 4 stars

Theatre Objektiv The extraordinary story of Wojtek, the loveable Polish soldier bear, who fought at Monte Cassino and died in Edinburgh Zoo. A man mothers a bear. An emotive journey from the Soviet Gulag and Persia to the Middle East, Italy and Scotland. A story of love and loyalty, war and peace, heroism and hope.