The Polar Bears Go Up

Platform, Glasgow

Mary Brennan

four stars

LAST time we encountered this gung-ho pair of polar bears, they were going wild – wild as in exploring icy wastes, not as in going on the rampage. Our bears – Eilidh MacAskill and Fiona Manson – are much too affable to maul anything beyond a toasted sandwich. They might well have stayed home, having daft tussles over who was in charge of the biscuits, if the Big Golden Balloon hadn’t popped out of a box and into their lives... albeit briefly. Its skywards escape from an unwary paw meant only one thing: our bears had to get into intrepid mode again, and go UP!

Even if they hadn’t pursued the errant star-shaped balloon – eventually building a rocket to get them high enough – the Polar Bears would still prove an entertaining double-act for young audiences (ideally age 2 - 5). There’s no spoken text, but the well-paced mix of episodes that establish the relationship between the small, happy-go-lucky one (Manson) and the taller, somewhat bossy-boots Big Bear (MacAskill) are crammed with merry visual gags – think Eric and Ernie in furry costumes, dabbling in one-up-man-ship gambits, or finding mirth in misunderstandings. What this Fish & Game/Unicorn London production – fine-tuned by director Lee Lyford – does brilliantly is channel sophisticated thinking into simple, tot-pleasing antics. Visually, it’s a stream of imaginative surprises. Wee doors open in towers of boxes, props emerge, including two teeny white bears who scale the mighty heights – by cable car, plane and rocket (on an emblematic wall chart) – while MacAskill and Manson breezily create the fabric, and vehicles, of a high-spirited journey into space. Never mind Tim Peake – these bears playfully defy gravity on-stage.

On tour to Falkirk Town Hall Studio today, Cumbernauld Theatre tomorrow, Adam Smith Theatre, Kirkcaldy Sunday and Scottish Storytelling Centre, Edinburgh June 2-4