Arcola Theatre

The Conquest Of The South Pole

Manfred Karge Translated by Tinch Minter and Anthony Vivis

Best mates – out of work, on benefits, hanging out, and hiding in epic journeys of the imagination. Four young men escape the realities of signing on and missing out by recreating Admundsen’s legendary expedition in a tiny attic room: one London footstep for every polar kilometre.

“Nothing but booze, make-believe and blarney. Sod off to the South Pole.”

A contemporary classic, The Conquest of the South Pole revels in the complexities of what makes a group tick. Highly theatrical and poetic, this bolt-of-energy play tracks a journey from despair to hope – the weight of the everyday world seen through youthful eyes.

Manfred Karge’s play has its first major London revival since the celebrated 1988 production helped launch the careers of a young Ewen Bremner and Alan Cumming. Original Director Stephen Unwin returns to direct the next generation in this landmark piece.


FOUR STARS Time Out, Caroline McGinn

The good news is that Karge’s surreal, colourful short play, in which the gang divert themselves from despair with an imaginary polar escapade, is one of the least depressing plays ever written about joblessness and it will be a shocking injustice if any of Unwin’s gifted new cast find themselves on Jobseeker’s Allowance any time soon. Unwin’s vivid show conquers the audience as well as the Pole … warm, funny collective moments like this are what you live in hope of – and not only in the theatre.

FOUR STARS The Guardian, Lyn Gardner

Karge’s drama…vivid, achingly alive – it could be set in the here and now – seems the right play at the right moment. A scrupulously acted production.

FOUR STARS Whatsonstage, Emma Watkins

All four are convincing and their well-pitched energy extracts plenty of comedy from the text. Linguistic styles varying from street to puns to semi-verse are used to good rhythmic and atmospheric effect and the techno music covering the scene changes helps to maintain a gritty yet upbeat tone throughout the 90 minutes….a snappy and humorous show.

FOUR STARS Spoonfed, Naima Khan

They pitch tents, they cook food, they get supplies, they read the manual and do the maths but without Slupianek – brilliantly brought to life with the energy, wit and presence of Mercutio by O-T Fagbenle – they’d be at a loss. But beyond this attic where these men can be successful on their own terms, there is a world of unemployment and hardship tellingly inhabited by the wife of Braukmann (Sam Crane), one of Slupianek’s comrades. La Braukmann (Emma Cunniffe) has tales of endless chip fat and feeding the guzzling amidst the grime in one of the most evocative, poetic scenes of the night.

FOUR STARS Telegraph, Daisy Bowie-Sell

This isn’t a depressing show though: the men’s situation and their rough, high-speed exchanges have humour, humanity and poignance rolled together… It’s clear why Stephen Unwin – who originally directed Alan Cumming in the role of Slupianek in its British premiere – has decided to revive it now. With the number of people claiming jobseekers allowance increasing in March to 1.61 million and double dip recession in the UK there’s a tug of recognition throughout the play’s ninety minutes at how hard life can get. But Karge offers a glimmer of hope and shows us that, no matter what, it’s vital to dream.

THREE STARS Evening Standard and The Times

Performance Times: 7.30pm (Sat mat 2.30pm, Wed mat 4pm)

Tickets: £18 (£12 concessions)

ALL TICKETS £12 for performances 25 – 28 April

Saturday Matinees: 28 April; 5, 12, 19, 26 May
Wednesday Matinees: 2, 9, 16 May (all tickets £12)

Pay What You Can Tuesdays (from 6.30pm on the door – limited and subject to availability)